A 43-year-old man who remains hospitalized in serious condition is suspected of fatally shooting a woman following a confrontation between him and anti-police protesters at a Portland, Oregon, park, authorities said Tuesday.
In a statement, the Portland Police Bureau identified the suspect as Benjamin Smith. Detectives were working with prosecutors to review potential charges, police said. It wasn’t immediately clear if Smith had an attorney who could speak on his behalf.
Authorities also identified the victim Tuesday as Brandy Knightly, 60, and said she died of a gunshot wound. Few other details were released about the slaying Saturday in a park that occurred as Oregon’s largest city is experiencing a sharp rise in gun violence.
“People at the scene removed critical evidence before officers arrived. Investigators ask that anyone with that evidence, as well as video, please contact police as these items are important to the investigation,” the statement said.
Smith’s roommate, Kristine Christenson, told The Oregonian/OregonLive that Smith often criticized the Black Lives Matter movement, the COVID-19 mask requirement, crime in the neighborhood and homeless people living near the park by their apartment.
Friends and relatives said Knightly was well-known for helping people in the city’s active protest movement.
Her friend Kathleen Saadat told the The Oregonian/OregonLive that Knightly was dedicated to acting on her values of justice and fairness.
“She was a warm, giving and kind person who spent time trying to think of things she could do to make the world better and to make herself better in the world,” Saadat said.
Knightly was known as T-Rex by other protesters, often driving people to and from different points during demonstrations in Portland and surrounding towns and paid particular attention to helping people with disabilities or others who were vulnerable, friends said.
Knightly’s wife, Katherine Knapp, said Knightly first got involved in racial justice protests when demonstrators marched near their home after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police in May 2020.
Police have described an “extremely chaotic scene” Saturday at Normandale Park, in Northeast Portland where the shooting happened. Police say there was a confrontation between an armed area resident and protesters, some of whom were also armed.
Authorities said most people left the scene without talking to officers.
Social media flyers show that at the same time as the shooting, a march was planned for Amir Locke, a Black man who was fatally shot by police in Minneapolis.
Portland saw months of nightly protests in 2020 that often spiraled into violence following the murder by police of Floyd in Minneapolis. Portland became the center of the movement to defund the police, but the sustained protests in the city have largely faded away.
The city is now dealing with a plague of gun violence.
Last year was marked by record-high gun violence in Portland. Police and city officials say the increase in violence, which disproportionally affected Portland’s Black community, was fueled by gang-related arguments, drug deals gone wrong and disputes among homeless people. The situation was exacerbated by the pandemic, economic hardships and mental health crises.
Portland recorded 90 homicides in 2021, shattering the city’s previous high of 66, set more than three decades ago.
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