PORTLAND, Oregon – Ricky John Best may not have realized he was putting his life on the line by coming to the aid of two young women being verbally harassed on a Portland, Oregon commuter train.
But, to those who knew him, it came as little surprise he would stand up for strangers.
“He was filled with love for his family, friends, neighbors and countrymen,” said Monsignor Richard Paperini at Best’s funeral on Monday. “I was absolutely shocked to hear about this tragedy, but I was not shocked by what Ricky had done.”
Best, 53, and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, 23, were killed as they tried to stop what police called a hate-filled rant directed at two high school girls – one was Muslim and the other was black.
Jeremy Joseph Christian is accused of stabbing the men to death and wounding another as they tried to talk him down.
Best was remembered as a hero and a patriot on Monday as he was laid to rest in Willamette National Cemetery in Oregon – and not just for his service in the US Army. Mourners said his courage on a Metropolitan Area Express blue line train showed the kind of valor this country needs in ideologically divided times such as these.
“He died standing up against hate,” said Mike Niemeyer of Silverton, Oregon.
He had no connection to Best or his family, but he was one of many who felt compelled to come out for the funeral procession. Standing on S.E. Bob Schumacher Road, Niemeyer held his hat over his heart as the hearse flying American flags passed by.
“This is the kind of man we need more of in our society,” Niemeyer said. “I think he represents everything we aspire to be as a community and a country.”
Earlier Monday, crowds packed Christ the King Catholic Church in Milwaukie, Oregon for a funeral Mass, filling pews and extra chairs.
Best’s wife, Myhanh Best, and their four children – three boys and a girl – sat in the front row. They wore white cloths wrapped around their heads to symbolize mourning in accordance with rituals of his wife’s Vietnamese background. Mourners described the Bests as devout Catholics whose children attended the school next to the church and volunteered as alter servers.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler was in attendance; so was 16-year-old Destinee Mangum, one of the young women on the train on the receiving end of the slurs. She hugged Best’s family after the service and left without speaking to reporters.
A relative offered up remembrances in Vietnamese. Other speakers, including one of Best’s sons, described him as a humble family man who became a martyr in death.
“Out of this tragedy comes Ricky Best’s bringing together a community. You can see here people of all faiths, walks of life, ethnicities representing the diversity of Portland,” said Portland Archbishop Alexander K. Sample. “Everybody seems to be here to recognize the good done by Rick and the other men.”
Family friend Daniel Berger read from the Bible’s book of Ecclesiastes. There was poignant moment when he recited the verse “A time to weep, and a time laugh; a time to mourn, and a time dance.”
Outside church, he passed out fliers urging attendees to donate to a scholarship fund for the family.
“We need to help them. They are leaders, maybe future doctors or nurses,” said Berger, a friend of Best’s eldest son, Erik. “Their last name, Best, does not even begin to describe how good they are.”
Seemab Hussaini, a member of the Oregon Ad Hoc Committee of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, called Best’s actions “absolutely heroic” in a time of strong anti-Muslim sentiment.
“Thank you for allowing me to go back home and tell my children ‘Papa was wrong. Superheroes exist,'” he said.
Standing up for what’s right
Sniffles echoed through the church as the Mass came to a close. With his children among the pallbearers, Best’s casket was wheeled toward the door and draped in an American flag.
Mourners lined the streets of Milwaukie holding American flags as the procession made its way through town. One of them was Peggy Bankofier of Happy Valley, Best’s hometown. Like Best, she has three sons, and she can imagine her oldest responding just like Best did under similar circumstances.
And, that makes her proud.
“We have to stand up for what is right,” she said. “Ricky Best did what was right, and he lost his life.”