By Eric A. Wilcox
A person’s life can change in a split second, based on an inconsequential decision or action, the butterfly effect. We all make decisions every day and yet we never know which one could be or will be life-changing.
It was a slow afternoon at work on Friday, May 19. I decided to take off a little early to go to the gym and get a workout in. It would be quiet at the gym as well. I could exercise and then meet my wife, Sue, for dinner. I belong to the LA Fitness club at the Lloyd Center, so I slipped out the office side door and caught the usual Blue Line train.
“He’s got a knife!”
It was the first thing I heard getting off the train at the Lloyd Center stop. Looking up, I saw a girl running down the north platform, a man chasing her with a knife in his left hand. When she stumbled, he caught up and with sudden viciousness, jammed a knife in her back.
Holy shit, did I just see what I just saw?
The man stood up, turned, crossed the track, climbed over the low barrier and started toward the train I was getting off. He paused for several seconds, his back to me, just a few feet away. I thought, what should I do? He just stabbed a girl, is he going to stab others? Is he getting away? He’s smaller than me, I could probably take him. Should I try? I could jump him right now. I need to do something.
Then he turned and faced me, still holding the knife, but now the knife was in his right hand. I don’t remember him switching hands. I decided that jumping him was probably not a good idea. We stood there facing each other for a second or two, then he turned and started walking west down the platform.
Not really thinking, I followed closely behind. The platform was fairly crowded that afternoon with commuters and students. There were still people in his path getting off the train or waiting to get on. I started yelling, “He has a knife and he just stabbed a girl!” over and over. All the way down the platform we went, him looking to get on the train or just get away, me following closely behind and yelling.
At the end of the platform, the situation changed.
He turned and faced me again, knife still in his right hand. We were maybe five feet apart. We stood there for a few seconds. Then he decided to come after me.
He moved forward, I backed up, he kept coming, I backpedaled focused only on the knife: a folding pocket knife with a wide, four-inch-long blade, blue handle, gripped tightly in his hand and pointing at my stomach. He was now chasing me. Back up the platform we went. I backpedaled as fast as I could. I couldn’t turn my back to him. I was focused on the knife.
That’s when I thought, “This is going to hurt.”
After backpedaling the length of the platform, I hit hard against a platform shelter column. I was stuck, he had me. We faced each other, the knife menacingly waving back and forth a few feet away. He turned again and started back down the platform. Now, I was pissed. I again started to follow, still yelling warnings. I didn’t want him to get away.
We continued to the end of the platform. Across the street and up the next block, where we ran into two police officers responding to the 911 calls that others had apparently made. They cornered him against a wall and demanded that he get on the ground. He refused and just stood there, insisting “I didn’t do anything.” After a stand-off for a minute or so, he was taken into custody.
He didn’t do anything?
I walked back to the platform to collect my backpack that I had dropped when I hit the column. Then I checked on the girl. She was lying on a bench and getting a lot of first aid. She appeared young and in shock, her back was bleeding, and a pool of blood was forming in the sidewalk below.
More police and paramedics arrived and things quickly calmed down. I gave my statement to one police officer. He said it sounded like I was a victim as well. This hadn’t occurred to me, I considered myself to be an involved bystander. He asked if I was afraid for my life? Risking my life never occurred to me. I did say I was afraid of getting stabbed.
After the interview, I called Sue to tell her I was running late. I decided to skip the workout and go get a beer or two.
A week later, on Friday, May 26, at 4:45 p.m., I testified before a grand jury about my case, what I saw and what I did. It took about five minutes to tell my story. After a week’s reflection, it really didn’t seem like I did that much, and I could have or should have done more.
Meanwhile, at the same time on the same train at the next stop, three men decided to step in to defend two girls who were being harassed by another passenger. They didn’t have to. They could have just sat there like most of the other passengers and tried to ignore the situation. But they chose to get involved, and for that brief life-changing decision, one was seriously wounded and two were brutally stabbed to death. I am sure that they didn’t anticipate this result when they made their decision. They were helping someone in need, something we all should be willing to do.
Now in a somewhat anonymous way I have something in common with these men. Each day I walk by the makeshift memorial at the 42nd Street Station stop. The events of that day are a constant reminder for me that we live not in a violent and uncaring world, but a world full of hope and support. I try to pause a moment to reflect on their courage and sacrifice. I remind myself to try to more compassionate, thoughtful, and involved. To be a better person.
These men didn’t have to do what they did, but they stepped up to do the right thing. The question now from me is: In the same situation what would I do?
I hope and pray that I would do the same.
Photographs: Eric Wilcox
Eric Wilcox, a longtime family friend and breakfast buddy of George, is an architect living in Northeast Portland with wife Sue.
Editor’s note: I’ve known Eric for almost 30 years, ever since our youngest children were infants. Never have I been prouder to be his friend than now. Given the choice between cowardice and courage, I’m not sure many people would have intervened as he did in the situation he described. Knowing Eric as a man of integrity, I’m not surprised he did.
Tomorrow: Jennifer Brennock, Bad news