It was the call Margie Fletcher had dreaded.
Her 21-year-old son, Micah Fletcher, a student at Portland State University, had always stood up against bullies since he was often a target of harassment himself, because of his Asperger’s syndrome (a mild form of autism), Margie tells PEOPLE.
She admired her son’s righteousness, she says, but “I always worried that somebody might hurt him.”
Those fears came true on Friday afternoon, when police and witnesses say Micah was one of three men attacked on a train in Portland, Oregon, while trying to help two teenage girls, one black and one wearing a hijab, who were being harassed by 35-year-old Jeremy Joseph Christian.
Christian was “ranting and raving” at the teens and using “hate speech” against them, according to police. He allegedly stabbed Micah along with Rick Best, 53, and 23-year-old Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche.
Micah was the only survivor.
In an interview with PEOPLE — as Micah recovers in the hospital from a deep stab wound to his neck, paralysis to his mouth and a broken jaw — Margie describes the moment she learned that her son had stepped in to help and the violence and heroism that came after.
One Stranger Helping Another
Margie says that on Friday around 4:40 p.m. “a man called me from my son’s phone.”
On the other end of the line was Marcus Knipe — a quick-thinking Iraqi war vet who, Margie says, helped save Micah’s life. Knipe was only feet away from Christian on the train platform when he saw his knife, he tells PEOPLE.
In the aftermath of the three stabbings, screaming passengers bolted from the train, Knipe says. “The next thing I know, Micah comes running off, holding his neck and he is going, ‘Help me! Help me! Call 911!’ ”
Micah staggered toward Knipe, who knew exactly what to do to help him: “I took him to the ground, kind of forcefully but gently also, because when you are stabbed, you are panicking.”
He immediately began administering first aid to Micah. “I knew what needed to be done and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time and I ended up saving his life,” Knipe says.
At Micah’s request, Knipe called Margie and told her that her son had been stabbed. Wanting to keep both her and Micah calm, he refrained from telling her that Micah had been stabbed in the neck — and was losing blood fast.
“I thought he had been stabbed in the arm,” she says. “I’m grateful he lied to me.”
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While Knipe kept pressure on Micah’s wound with a toddler’s coat and then a baby blanket that someone had thrown to him, he also provided a reassuring presence to Micah and his mother while they waited for EMT’s to arrive.
“I could hear my son and he sounded very scared and weak, which terrified me,” Margie says. “But Marcus kept me calm. He sounded like he knew what he was doing.”
Margie reunited with her son at the hospital, but says she “was not prepared for what I saw — in any way.”
Covered in bandages with a tube sticking out of his neck, Micah, his mom soon learned, suffered a severe stab wound that broke his jaw and severed a nerve, she says.
“It missed the jugular by a millimeter, but it did hit one of the main arteries, so he had some serious surgery,” Margie says. “His entire left side is slashed up.”
“But I’m lucky,” she continues. “Thank God Marcus was there.”
Police said that Christian was arrested soon after fleeing the train. He remains in custody on charges of aggravated murder, attempted murder, intimidation in the second degree and felon in possession of a weapon, authorities told PEOPLE.
He has not entered a plea, and it is unclear if he has retained an attorney. He is reportedly set to appear in court on Tuesday morning.
The FBI has joined the investigation and will determine whether he will be charged with federal hate crimes. In a statement, federal investigators pledged their solidarity to the victims:
“To those community members affected by this violence — in particular, the families of the good Samaritan heroes and our neighbors in the Muslim and African-American communities — we stand with you. We won’t allow these acts to go unanswered.”
Micah, Margie says, “wants the hate to stop, too. All this happened because of somebody who hated anybody who wasn’t like him.”
“There are so [many] good people, but they are the silent majority,” she says. “Our voices need to be heard. We need to speak up.”
While Micah is being praised for his “truly amazing” heroism, by Portland’s mayor and others, Margie says he doesn’t feel like much of a hero.
“He feels like it’s his fault the other two people are dead,” she says. “But we’re trying to tell him that he may well have saved those girls.”
Margie says Micah faces a “long haul” to recovery, including physical therapy and counseling, but the families of Best and Namkai-Meche “are much worse off.”
“It’s so sad,” she says.
A GoFundMe has been started to help pay for Micah’s medical expenses, and Margie says she is grateful for the outpouring of love and support she and her son have received in the wake of the attack.
“You look around after something like this and you see all the love there is,” she says, “and how many good people there really are in the world.”