This past May, gay Portland State University student Aaron Salazar was found bruised, burned, and unconscious by railroad tracks in rural California.
Now members of Congress are asking Amtrak for answers about the possible hate crime since the investigation appears to have stalled.
Aaron, 22, was taking an train from Denver to Portland this past May. He sent a text message to his great-grandmother saying that he made a friend on the train, and the next day his body was found by the tracks in Truckee, California.
He was taken by helicopter to a hospital in Reno, Nevada, since his injuries were severe. He was treated for multiple brain injuries, a broken pelvis, and burns on his thighs.
Since he was found next to railroad tracks, the Amtrak Police Department has jurisdiction over the investigation, not local authorities. In a statement, APD said that Aaron’s injuries don’t “suggest criminal intent.”
While APD has not publicly said they believe Aaron attempted suicide, his family said APD told them they believe he jumped out of the window of a train.
His family, though, believes that he was attacked in the train because his clothes didn’t show any signs of falling out of a moving train, he did not appear suicidal or depressed, Amtrak said that there were no reports of open windows on that train, and doctors said his injuries were consistent with a beating.
Aaron was unable to speak for the past three months due to brain damage, and the family has grown frustrated with APD’s investigation.
His cousin Sonia Trujillo said that APD chief Neil Trugman has stopped speaking with the family, instead making them send all communications through Amtrak’s corporate attorneys. She said that investigators still believe that Aaron attempted suicide.
Trujillo said that her family is trying to get the FBI to take over the investigation, and she might get some help from several members of Congress.
The Congressional delegations from both Hawaii (Aaron’s home state) and Oregon sent letters to Amtrak to release the results of their investigation.
“Aaron is a person of color who also identifies as gay, and his injuries suggest that this incident may have been a hate crime against him during an Amtrak layover in Truckee, California,” Oregon’s congressional delegation wrote.
Hawaii’s Congressional delegation asked Amtrak to move a little faster with the investigation.
“While the Hawai’i Congressional District respects the investigation process, we expect that Amtrak will conduct a thorough investigation and provide us and the Salazar family with a comprehensive and timely report of the events leading up to Mr. Salazar’s injuries,” the letter stated.
Last week, Aaron’s family wrote on a GoFundMe page they set up to help with his medical expenses that he is able to talk.
“When asked about the train, he sadly cannot remember,” wrote Austin Sailas, Aaron’s cousin, who added that the doctor said it was “normal due to a mix of both the injury, and his brain protecting him from the traumatic event.”
Amtrak did not respond to a request for comment on this story.
Update: A spokesperson for Amtrak sent LGBTQ Nation this statement after publication: “The investigation remains open, pending any new information or the opportunity to interview Mr. Salazar. After an extensive investigation by the Amtrak Police Department, in coordination with other local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, there is no indication of criminal activity at this time.”