Witness recounts Portland activist's final moments
Mourners made a pilgrimage on Monday, Oct. 14, to the site where a young man beloved in the local anti-fascist community was killed. The death is now the subject of an active homicide investigation.
But while a spotlight shines on the life of Sean Daniel Kealiher, a haze clouds the circumstances surrounding his final moments.
Daryl Perez lives in a tent just a few dozen paces from the Democratic Party of Oregon office where Kealiher was fatally struck by a silver Ford SUV just after midnight on Saturday, Oct. 12. "He died right there," he said.
Perez was inside his tent and described what he heard: First a fistfight — two loud crashes — and gunshots.
The altercation only lasted a few moments, and Perez said he heard four, perhaps five voices. He didn't know who said what. But according to Perez, somebody started talking after the fight: "It's going to be worse — you want some more? Get in your car and leave, that's my best advice."
Perez heard the sounds of two collisions. Afterward, a revving engine reverberated through the Kearns neighborhood as the driver of an SUV attempted unsuccessfully to dislodge the vehicle from a street tree outside the single-story office building on Northeast Ninth Avenue.
Perez thinks two men ran from the SUV. The other two carried Kealiher's body to their own car, leaving behind a trail of blood on the pavement. He was taken to a hospital.
Perez's account was originally broadcast by KOIN 6 News, who provided an extended transcript of the interview to the Tribune as part of the companies' media partnership. A spokesman for the Portland Police Bureau declined to discuss the case.
As an activist, Kealiher helped organize rallies and testified at Portland City Hall. Described as sweet and kind-hearted, Kealiher fearlessly challenged local authority figures. Kealiher (prounounced Kelly-er) sometimes acted under the name Armeanio Lewis.
He made no secret of his political opinions at work, but made a stronger impression with his capable, can-do outlook. "Never late. He always worked so hard, and with a positive attitude," said Lexi Wakup, his boss at NW Office Liquidations. "He was a good, good kid."
He made a similar mark with Kristy Hathaway, his partner for several years. Though they weren't together in recent months, Kealiher still talked of her. "He always saw the disadvantaged and just wondered why isn't anyone speaking up for them," Hathaway said. "I think that was just at the core of his being."
Kealiher's life and death has attracted considerable attention online, including many tributes and condolences. A fundraiser seeking money for funeral expenses has collected more than $8,700.
Andy Ngo — who came to prominence after he was attacked earlier this year for his critical videos of Portland protests — circulated less flattering footage, describing Kealiher's actions as threatening.
Less than 24 hours after the homicide investigation began, a crowd dressed in black arrived at the Democratic Party of Oregon office. They carried red flares, and inscribed words of remembrance and grief with paint on the building's walls.
A party spokeswoman called the damage "insignificant," and said the party would respect the bereaved group's right to congregate. Mourners left many things behind — flowers, candles and tears — but not answers.
A group of fifty gathered w/ flares and candles near NE Everett & 9th this evening to memorialize Sean Kealiher, the 23-year-old man who died after being hit by an SUV early Saturday morning. pic.twitter.com/dkIq2ompPp— Alex Zielinski (@alex_zee) October 14, 2019
Democratic Party of Oregon statement:
"We are deeply saddened by the homicide that took place outside our building this weekend. We recognize the deep pain of Mr. Sean D. Kealiher's family and friends while they grieve. We encourage anyone with information about the murder to share it with Portland police. We know that community members are discussing ways to memorialize Sean Kealiher and they can count on our support.
While the location of this horrific incident may have been unintentional, we respect the desires of mourners to congregate at the scene of this crime. Although the graffiti to our building is significant, any damage is insignificant compared to the community's tremendous grief over this senseless death.
In the coming days, our focus will be maintaining a safe and supportive environment for mourners, DPO staff, and volunteers. "
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