Ed Langlois/Catholic SentinelA woman walks down a ramp at the Hollywood MAX station where Portlanders have been weeping and constructing a massive makeshift memorial for men who were killed when defending two women from a racist attacker.
Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel
A woman walks down a ramp at the Hollywood MAX station where Portlanders have been weeping and constructing a massive makeshift memorial for men who were killed when defending two women from a racist attacker.
UPDATED MAY 29, 4:40 PM

On a crowded Portland commuter train May 26, a selfless Catholic father of four stepped forward to calm a tense situation. He was that kind of guy.

Rick Best defended two women being accosted by a furious, imbalanced and racist passenger. Best, a 53-year-old member of Christ the King Parish in Milwaukie, would die for his noble deed.

In less than a minute, he and another defender were slain, slashed in the neck in front of horrified onlookers. A third man survived the knife attack.

Best’s funeral is set for Monday, June 5, 10 a.m. at Christ the King Church.

 

Pattern of racism

The accused killer, 35-year-old Jeremy Christian, had been on a racially charged rampage. With a history of police run-ins going back 15 years at least, he was caught on camera in April, draped in an American flag and repeatedly yelling bigoted epithets during a demonstration in Portland. On his Facebook page, he posted a photo of himself performing the Nazi salute and declared himself a white supremacist.

The day before the killings, Christian hurled a plastic bottle at a black woman at another rail station.

On the unseasonably warm afternoon of May 26, one of the young women who became Christian’s focus on the packed train was wearing a hijab; the other was black.

When the bloodied train stopped at the Hollywood station, Christian escaped, but police captured him soon after. He remains in custody in Multnomah County Jail, indicted on two counts of aggravated murder, one count of attempted murder, two counts of intimidation and one count of being a felon in possession of a restricted weapon.

Best was pronounced dead at the scene. Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche, a 23-year-old Reed College graduate, died later at the hospital. Injured in the attack and recovering is Micah David-Cole Fletcher, a 21-year-old student at Portland State University.

 

A man of service

Best leaves a wife, Myhanh Duong Best, and four children: boys ages 19, 17 and 14 and a 12-year-old daughter.

A veteran who served in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan during a 23-year career in the Army, he had worked as a technician for the City of Portland Development Services since 2015.

His supervisor, Kareen Perkins, told KGW television, “He was always the first person you would go to for help. I've talked to most of his coworkers today, and several of them said it's just like Rick to step in and help somebody out.”

Best grew up in Salem and attended Vocational Village High School in Portland. He and his wife, who is from Vietnam, met at Portland Community College.

He retired from the Army as a platoon sergeant in 2012. Living in Happy Valley, he decided the local government needed refreshing and in 2014 ran unsuccessfully for the Clackamas County commission, refusing to accept campaign donations.

 

‘Gratitude is owed’

The killings took place at the start of Portland’s annual Rose Festival, when thousands of visitors come to the city. Archbishop Alexander Sample last month became the first Catholic prelate to give the festival’s opening blessing. Police and social workers say tensions often rise during festival time, when Portland is more crowded. Political tensions are also being cited in the attack.

In a statement, the archbishop sought to comfort a city shocked by the brutal slayings. The metropolitan area of more than 1 million averages about 20 murders per year.

“My heart goes out to all those affected by what happened, and I ask the faithful in western Oregon and all people to join me in taking some spiritual and practical actions in working towards peace and respect for those who make up this wonderful and diverse community,” the archbishop said, urging prayer for the dead and injured.

“Our profound gratitude is owed to those who bravely stepped forward to protect the young women who were being vehemently harassed,” the archbishop said.

“Pray for those who may now feel unsafe in moving freely about a city that truly welcomes people of all cultures, faith traditions and walks of life,” he added. “Pray for those whose hearts and minds may be hardened to the love of God and act out in such violent and hateful ways.”

The archbishop encouraged citizens, government officials and faith-based agencies such as Catholic Charities to welcome all people: “It is only through these Christ-like actions that we can truly make a real and tangible change to this continuing and growing disregard for the dignity of every human person.”

 

Fulfilling discipleship

During a Memorial Day homily at Gethsemani Cemetery, not far from the Best home, Archbishop Sample told hundreds of worshipers spilling out of the chapel that Best learned in the Army what it means to put one’s life on the line for others.

Best and Namkai Meche, the archbishop said, gave themselves in defense of the defenseless.

“They dug deep down inside to a place of great courage and strength,” the archbishop said. “They would not let hatred go unchallenged.”

In that, the archbishop said, the men closely followed Jesus. “Those who die in service to others fulfill the discipleship of Christ,” the archbishop concluded, reflecting on the MAX train heroes as well as soldiers who have died for their country. “It is important that we never lose sight of these sacrifices.”

 

‘The nicest family’

Christ the King Parish is in shock, but has mobilized to support the Bests.

“They are just the nicest family ever,” says Evans Brackenbrough, a La Salle Prep student who attends Christ the King youth group with two of the Best children. “There is nothing bad in any of the kids.”

“They are very graceful, very solemn,” says Mack Castaneda, a West Linn student and also a member of the youth group.

“This family is so faith filled,” says Deacon Jim Pittman, a longtime worker at Christ the King Parish. The Bests came to Sunday morning Mass, just 40 hours after the killings.

Deacon Pittman has been meeting with the family. “I told the kids, ‘Your dad died in the way Christ told us to,’” he says. Eric, the oldest, told Deacon Pittman that he is not yet ready to forgive, but does not feel hate.

Deacon Pittman told Eric and the other children it is all right to cry.

“That’s what our dad always told us,” responded Eric, who is taking a lead in making arrangements for his father’s funeral.

At the Hollywood MAX station, a massive memorial has sprung up. Flowers, candles and chalked prayers cover the area. Citizens stand and weep, even if they did not know anyone involved. One visitor to the vigil site, Tami Soprani of St. Patrick Parish in Portland, tried to explain the feeling.

“You see someone stand up for what we all believe, and that is very powerful, very emotional,” Soprani said.