Portland mom: Police refuse to solve death of Sean Kealiher
Sean Kealiher has not been forgotten.
It's been one year since the 23-year-old activist was fatally run over during an after-midnight altercation that pierced the air with gunfire just blocks away from the now-defunct bar Cider Riot in Northeast Portland.
Laura Kealiher, his mother, marked the anniversary from the deck of the Tilikum Bridge, which glowed like fire late Monday evening, Oct. 12, as mourners lit road flares and sent fireworks roaring over the Willamette River.
Last night in Portland friends of Sean Kealiher gathered to remember the fallen anti-fascist. They shared memories while they marched in the streets to Tilikum Crossing bridge. They lit up the sky with flares and fireworks in a celebration of his life.— Daniel V. Media (@danielvmedia) October 13, 2020
The Portland Police Bureau says the case remains an active homicide investigation.
But Laura Kealiher worries her son's death has been left to cool on a back burner — citing as evidence the authorities' recovery of the SUV used in the homicide outside the Democratic Party of Oregon headquarters on Northeast Ninth Avenue.
"I strongly feel the police know who did it," she said in an interview. "They have the vehicle — they've got to know who registered it. With cameras and everything else, I can't buy it."
Though she once held a minute-long press conference forbidding anyone from speaking to the media regarding the incident, she now encourages anyone with information to come forward — and for the guilty to turn themselves in.
So do police, who declined to respond to further questions.
Laura Kealiher said the high-profile death brought with it a cascade of harassment and false narratives on social media, including the claim that Sean died because the friends he met up with earlier that night at Cider Riot brought his body to the hospital in their own car.
"Calling an ambulance would have made no difference," she said. "He was dead as soon as that vehicle hit him."
Life was not always a gilt path for Sean. The death of Laura's stepdad robbed him of a father figure, she said, and forced the family to move from the David Douglas School District to the area served by Lent K-8 school when Sean was 12. He did not graduate from Cleveland High School and was working as a mover at the time of his death.
But he found an outlet in Taekwondo, she recalled, working for Portland Parks & Rec as a teenager and playing trumpet in a school jazz band. Hyatt Eshelman, 26, whose lawyers told the Oregonian he fired shots with a lawfully-carried handgun during the deadly altercation last year in order to prevent Sean from being run over a second time, is also a musician in a local punk band.
Laura makes no apologies for Sean's anti-fascist beliefs — admitting he supported breaking windows in order to rouse political change. But she said her son's zines, especially one on schools published under the name Armeanio Lewis, included ideas that were not always literal or that have been taken out of context.
"My son was not a terrorist," she said. "He was talking about breaking down the system that was causing the inequalities in schools."
Now every protest is bittersweet.
"Sean would have loved to see so many people taking to the streets and doing direct actions," she said. "It's been hard. Every time I see someone in black bloc, I keep thinking Sean's going to pop up around the corner."
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