Just hours before he was shot in the chest Saturday night, 39-year-old Aaron “Jay” Danielson and a friend were seen heading downtown to protect a flag-waving caravan of Trump supporters. They wore hats with the insignia of Patriot Prayer, a group that has clashed with left-wing protesters in Portland for years, and appeared armed with knives and paintball guns.
“Paint is a defensive mechanism. Paint is not bullets,” Trump said during his White House briefing Monday, adding that someone connected with violent protests “shot a young gentleman and killed him. Not with paint but with a bullet.”
In cellphone video of the shooting, both Danielson and his assailant were seen on a darkened street. At least three shots rang out in a smoky haze, followed by images of Danielson crumpled on the ground as the friend, Chandler Pappas, slaps him in the face and rolls him over, yelling “Jay! Jay!”
“He was a good man and he was just killed senselessly for no reason other than he believed something different than they do,” Pappas told supporters during a rally Sunday. “He was Christian. He was conservative.”
Added Patriot Prayer founder Joey Gibson on his Facebook page: “We love Jay and he had such a huge heart. God bless him and the life he lived.”
Ex-girlfriend Christine Banks said Monday Danielson didn't discuss politics much but of the weeks-long protests in Portland: “He didn't think it was right. ... He was there for peace.”
Banks said Danielson was a good person who loved nature and animals.
“If you ask anybody, the one thing they’ll remember him by is his goofy, beautiful smile,” she said. "He cared about what you believed in and not the color of your skin.”
A GoFundMe site late Monday said it had raised $33,000 from more than 900 donors for “legal/lawyer fees, and towards fulfilling all other incurred costs in this time of need."
Danielson, a burly, bearded man, helped run a company in Portland called North West Specialty Moving that focused on transporting heavy items such as marble statues, hot tubs and gun safes. The company’s address, which is the same address listed for Danielson for two parking violations in 2019, is a modest blue bungalow in a residential neighborhood in southwest Portland.
Luke Carrillo, Danielson’s long-time business partner, said they'd been friends for 20 years.
"We have lived and worked together day in and day out," he told reporters. “We are like brothers, brothers that chose one another.”
Danielson is associated with another company, Oregon Pro Arms LLC, which according to state records is focused primarily on moving gun safes.
Just hours before the shooting on Saturday, Pappas stood in a mall parking lot in suburban Clackamas talking to a reporter from the Portland Tribune.
The man next to him who appeared to be Danielson didn’t say much, except to make a reference to a journalist who had been attacked last year in Portland.
“We’re all about independent journalism,” the man said.
Pappas at one point interjected, referring to the Trump caravan, “I’m here to stop people from assaulting these people.”
Critics have said that instead of keeping the peace, Patriot Prayer has helped incite violence. Last month in nearby Gresham, Pappas showed up to counter a Black Lives Matter event and, according to the Portland Tribune, declared: “I came here ready for war.”
Portland police have yet to make an arrest. On Monday, they asked for witnesses and those who had taken video of the scene to contact them.
A small memorial to Danielson took shape Monday on a sidewalk in front of the parking structure where he collapsed. It included four yellow daises tied to a tree, a small American flag flapping in the wind, and a sympathy card with a Bible verse and handwritten note.
“Jay went to Jesus, where will you go?”
Selskey reported from Salem, Ore., Condon from New York. Video journalist Aron Ranen contributed to this report.