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Memorial bench for victim of 2017 Portland train attack to be installed in Lithia Park

A man with a beard and medium-length hair is wearing a black sweatshirt and red beanie. His left hand is rubbing along a large slab of redwood. there's an electric sander sitting on the slab
Roman Battaglia
Jefferson Public Radio
Alex Landt checks a redwood slab he's preparing to become a memorial bench for Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, April 19, 2023.

A memorial is being dedicated this month in honor of a former Ashlander who died defending two young women during a 2017 attack on a Portland train.

In the backyard of a small yellow house in Ashland, Alex Landt is covered in sawdust. He grew up in Ashland and now works at a salvaged redwood mill in Crescent City. He’s sanding down a 10-foot-long slab of redwood.

Landt touches the slab after sanding it to check his progress. After just an hour of sanding, it’s already much smoother.

The entire slab weighs around 200 pounds, according to Landt. He sits on it and bounces it up and down.

“You could have a dance party on it,” he says. “Nothing’s gonna happen to the slab. It’s solid.”

This giant piece of wood is being finished to become a memorial bench, in honor of one of Landt’s childhood friends, Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche. Namkai-Meche was one of three victims from a stabbing attack on the Portland MAX light-rail in 2017.

Landt and Namkai-Meche both grew up in Ashland. Landt says he remembers when he was in first grade, Namkai-Meche, a preschooler, approached him and they would soon become dear friends.

The bases of two California redwood trees, about 10 feet apart from each other. Large branches and leaves above shade the area directly underneath the tree, which is also littered with dead leaves.
Roman Battaglia
Jefferson Public Radio
The spot in Lithia Park where the memorial bench will go, April 19, 2023. The bench will go in between the two redwood trees, with the goal that the trees will eventually grow into the bench.

“I think that for both of us we just found kindred spirits in each other,” he says.

The two began playing together in Ashland’s Lithia Park. Namkai-Meche lived right across the street, and they would act like the park was their own massive front yard.

“There was a bamboo grove by upper duck pond,” Landt says. “And these were areas that, as little kids, we would disappear into and make forts and play.”

In 2017, Namkai-Meche was 23 and working in Portland when he stepped-in to protect two young girls facing a tirade of racist and anti-Muslim slurs from Jeremy Joseph Christian while riding the MAX light-rail.

Namkai-Meche, along with Ricky Best and Micah Fletcher, tried to de-escalate the situation. Christian fatally stabbed Namkai-Meche and Best, and Fletcher suffered serious injuries.

Namkai-Meche’s death was quickly felt by the many people he left an impression on throughout his life.

“It’s like a part of myself died that day too really,” says Landt. “Because our closeness really was something special.”

Landt says he still thinks about the last time he saw his friend. Over time, they grew physically farther apart, but he says when they would meet up, that friendship was just as strong as ever.

“The last time we got to hang out we went backpacking. And it was a really hilarious trip,” he says. “Some of my biggest regrets in life have to do with Tilly, knowing that he’s passed now. Moments where we chose not to see each other.”

The memorial site

Landt walks to a pair of redwood trees in Lithia Park, just past the Japanese garden. It’s where the memorial bench will be installed.

Standing between the two trees, he stretches out his arms wide to show where the bench will go.

“The plan is to cut as close as possible and to use blocks to block it up,” says Landt. “But that in the future, the trees will naturally grab the bench and hold it there.”

Asha Deliverance is Namkai-Meche’s mother. She still lives on the same street where he grew up, right across from the park. Deliverance says these two redwood trees have been important to Namkai-Meche since before he was even born.

“This is where I met with Taliesin’s father for the first time as a romantic adventure. And we kissed under these trees,” she says. “And when Alex told me that he chose these trees to put the memorial bench for Taliesin, I was like, ‘That is perfect.’”

The camera is at the base of a California redwood tree, looking straight up. The trunk disappears into the sky, shrouded by numerous branches and green leaves.
Roman Battaglia
Jefferson Public Radio
One of the two coastal redwood trees in Lithia Park, April 19, 2023. This type of redwood is native to the Northern California coast and a small part of southwest Oregon

Deliverance says her son took on difficult challenges, but had a heart of gold.

“It wasn’t a surprise to me at all when they told me his last words on the train were, ‘Tell everyone on this train I love them,’” Deliverance says.

She says Namkai-Meche’s greatest legacy is the way he died, protecting a Muslim girl and taking a stand against racism and Islamophobia.

Landt still thinks of his friend as he continues through life, including raising his own child.

“Talieshin has and does continue to shape my decisions,” he says. “If I’m ever wondering, I think, ‘What would Tilly do? How would Tilly react or interact in this situation?’”

“It wasn’t a surprise to me at all when they told me his last words on the train were, ‘Tell everyone on this train I love them.’”
Asha Deliverance

As Landt looks at the spot where the redwood bench will be, he says it feels right. He says this is a good way for Namkai-Meche’s legacy to be seen by others.

“I hope they feel love,” says Landt. “I think at the fundamental root of our human existence is the choice between love and fear. And I hope that when people come to this bench they feel that.”

Landt says he wants this bench to not be just a memorial, but a place for family and friends of Namkai-Meche to gather and reflect on how he touched their lives.

A ceremony at the memorial site is planned for May 26, the sixth anniversary of the day Namkai-Meche gave up his life to protect others.

Roman Battaglia is a regional reporter for Jefferson Public Radio. After graduating from Oregon State University, Roman came to JPR as part of the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism in 2019. He then joined Delaware Public Media as a Report For America fellow before returning to the JPR newsroom.