Shortly after midnight on Oct. 12, leftist activist Sean Kealiher was hit and killed by an SUV. The driver fled the scene, and police found the abandoned SUV with bullet holes on a sidewalk along Northeast 9th Avenue.
Kealiher, 23, was a self-described antifascist who frequently participated in Portland street protests, which regularly descend into brawls with right-wing groups. He was a regular patron of Cider Riot, an antifascist night spot two blocks from where the SUV was found.
In a 2018 interview on KBOO radio, Kealiher, using the name "Armeanio," said most of his antifascist activity was researching far-right groups. "When people think antifascist, people think these big scary guys in all black," he said, "when really it's me in my underwear at 3 in the morning going through the white pages, court records, voting records, and trying to find addresses."
His slaying remains unsolved. Memorials and tribute graffiti now plaster the walls outside the Democratic Party of Oregon offices, where the SUV crashed. The killing inspired wild rumors and heated arguments online—but Portland police have said very little.
The obvious question: Who did it? An arrest would begin to clear up three other mysteries surrounding Kealiher's death.
Was the killing politically motivated?
Kealiher's activism, and the area where he died, immediately led to speculation. Right-wing organizers currently face criminal indictments and a $1 million lawsuit for attacking antifascists May 1 outside Cider Riot, and the far right is fixated on the cidery. But there's no evidence that anyone affiliated with a right-wing group killed Kealiher. Juan Chavez, attorney for Cider Riot owner Abram Goldman-Armstrong, tells WW, "He doesn't know if this was a targeted attack." Rose City Antifa issued a brief statement Oct. 12 saying it believes "this was not related to fascist activity." Police say they don't know of a motive.
Was the killing intentional?
Police are investigating the death as a homicide—but that's not the same thing as murder and covers many killings that aren't premeditated. On Oct. 14, an eyewitness account emerged: Darryl Perez, who lives in a tent across 9th Avenue from the Democratic Party offices, told The Oregonian and the Portland Tribune he heard an argument before the crash. He described the hit-and-run as an instance of road rage. Kealiher's mother held a press conference Oct. 15 and asked people to stop talking to the media. "They just fuel the rumor mill which everyone close to Sean has had to suffer through," Laura Kealiher said.
Why were shots fired?
Armed antifascists are not unprecedented—several leftist gun groups have blossomed in the Pacific Northwest during the Trump era—but this would mark the first known Portland case of antifascists discharging a weapon in a violent incident. Two people were briefly held in police custody Oct. 12 after dropping Kealiher at a hospital, but they were not charged with any crime. Both have retained attorneys, WW has learned.