The mother of Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche, one of the good Samaritans stabbed to death on a Portland train, recalls her son as wanting to make the world a better place. Even as a small child, he was unafraid of a challenge.
PORTLAND — Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche was on a MAX train Friday afternoon, talking to his aunt on the phone. He chatted about his job, his girlfriend and the new life unfolding after his 2016 graduation from Reed College.
Teresa Van Olphlen says that over the phone, she could hear someone yelling. Another passenger was launching into a tirade against two teenage girls, one wearing a hijab. She urged her nephew not to intervene, but Meche told her the situation was escalating, and he needed to get off the phone.
“He obviously couldn’t just sit there and be OK with what was going on,” Van Olphen told The Seattle Times.
In the moments that followed, Meche, 23, and two other light-rail passengers tried to halt the verbal abuse. The man hurling the insults turned his rage — and a knife — on the good Samaritans.
Meche and Rick Best, a 53-year-old Army veteran and city worker were fatally wounded. Another man was seriously injured — 21-year-old Micah David-Cole Fletcher, a Portland State University student who The Oregonian reported won a poetry competition a few years back for a piece defending Muslims against prejudice.
The bloodshed, which the Portland Police Bureau says was caught on video, has drawn national attention. President Donald Trump on Monday tweeted praise for those who intervened as standing up “to hate and intolerance.”
Attack in Portland
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- Man arrested in theft of Portland train victim’s ring
- Portland mayor: ‘Heroes’ died protecting women on train from anti-Muslim rant
- Muslims thankful for support after rant, deadly attack
- Mom of Taliesin Meche says Portland train victim known for brave spirit
- Three men stood up to anti-Muslim taunts. Two paid with their lives
- Portland mayor aims to nix free-speech rally, fears ‘hatred’
- Unease about white supremacy grows after Portland stabbings
- Train stabbing survivor: Portland has ‘white savior complex’
- A legal explanation of ‘hate crime’ and ‘malicious harassment’
In this city, grief is mixed with anger.
The alleged assailant, Jeremy Joseph Christian, 35, espoused extremist, hate-filled views at an event held this year by a group known as the Patriot Prayer. One of the group’s organizers, Joey Gibson of Vancouver, Wash., said in a Facebook video that Christian was never welcome at that event, and is moving ahead with a scheduled “rally for free speech” Sunday in Portland.
The rally is drawing strong opposition.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler on Monday called the organizers an “alt-right” group, and asked the federal government to revoke a permit for the group to assemble on a federal plaza Sunday.
If it proceeds as planned, others are urging people to show up to “shut down fascism.” That raises concerns of a clash.
“We are very well aware of that, and working to try to defuse tensions,” said Sgt. Pete Simpson, a spokesman for the Portland police.
Meanwhile, Meche’s mother, Asha Deliverance, says she is hoping to organize a “peace vigil” in Portland on Sunday — in a separate location — to honor her son and the others who came forward to help the two teenage girls.
In an interview in Portland, Deliverance described her son as a humanitarian who wanted to make the world a better place.
“To be honest with you, he would have stepped up for anyone. White children, black children, Muslim children or older people. He would have taken responsibility,” Deliverance said.
“Love your life”
Taliesin was named after a sixth-century Welsh bard and was the second youngest in a combined family of nine children. He grew up in Ashland, Oregon, and early on, was unafraid of a challenge.
When he was 3, he climbed a 30-foot tree, and as his anxious family prepared to rescue him, he climbed back down.
Two years later, he was not content to stay on the sidelines as actors in the Ashland-based Oregon Shakespeare Festival practiced their combat moves in chain-mail suits in a park near his home. Wielding a small plastic sword, he walked up to one of the tallest actors and challenged him to a duel.
“The guy says, ‘You are no match for me,’ and Taliesin looked at him, and said ‘Try me,” Deliverance recalls. “He just had a lot of bravery in his spirit.”
He also had a strong spiritual streak, studying the world’s religions, and taking a tent along on family trips so he could escape for meditation.
As a youth, he came to the aid of others.
He once called an ambulance to a remote location to rescue an underage friend who’d had too much to drink. While waiting for aid to arrive, Meche helped keep the friend alive as he drifted in and out of consciousness, according to Deliverance.
After high school, Meche opted for a gap year before going to college. He headed for Thailand, where his adventures included time with sea gypsies and a shaman.
Deliverance said her son appeared happy in his post-college life, working for The Cadmus Group, a consulting firm, in a Portland branch office, and just this month moving into a new house he shared with friends. He also was a rapper, recording a song that includes the refrain “If I got one message, it’s love your life …”
Deliverance said she and her son spoke on the phone often and had briefly talked on his final MAX train ride.
That Friday afternoon, she was on her way to an Ashland prayer session for children led by a representative of the Dalai Lama, and wearing a green scarf her son had given her upon his return from Thailand.
As she listened to the children’s blessing, Deliverance said her own son was going to the aid of the two girls.
One of them, Destinee Mangum, told KPTV that her friend was Muslim. She recounted what happened as she said Christian started yelling at them.
“He told us to go back to Saudi Arabia, and he told us we shouldn’t be here, to get out of his country,” Mangum said. “He was just telling us that we basically weren’t anything and that we should kill ourselves.”
The teens moved toward the back of the train, preparing to get off at the next stop.
“And then we turned around while they were fighting, and he just started stabbing people, and it was just blood everywhere, and we just started running for our lives,” Mangum said.
Later Friday evening, Deliverance got a call from a daughter, telling her what had happened. She rushed up to Portland.
Deliverance said those who reached out to her over the weekend included a woman who came to the aid of her son after he was stabbed. She told Meche’s mother his last words.
“Tell everyone on this train I love them.”
A hope for unity
On Saturday evening, Deliverance attended an emotional, at times volatile, vigil held at a MAX transit center in northeast Portland.
Accompanied by some of her children and grandchildren, she was buoyed by handshakes and hugs from members of the Portland-area Muslim community and many speakers who praised the heroism of her son and the two other men.
But there was also frustration, with calls for more security on MAX trains, and a harder stand against right-wing extremists. One man cursed Mayor Wheeler, who was attending the vigil, but quickly left.
“That was pretty nasty,” Deliverance said. “It was beautiful that the mayor was there. We need more love and unity.”
Through the Memorial Day weekend, Deliverance stayed in Portland to grieve with her family.
Meche’s body was to be cremated Monday evening.
Friends and family will spread his ashes in the mountains.
Information in this article, originally published May 29, 2017, was corrected June 1, 2017. A previous version of this story misstated the last name of Patriot Prayer organizer Joey Gibson.