The FBI has stepped into the investigation of a possible hate crime that left a Kaiser High School graduate unconscious and critically bleeding along a California railroad in May, his family says.
Aaron Salazar’s grandfather in Hawaii Kai, Michael Mathieu, said an agent from the FBI’s Sacramento field office collected a DNA sample from Salazar on Sept. 10 — four days after Civil Beat published a story detailing the Salazar family’s doubts about the investigation led by Amtrak police.
On May 15, Salazar was an overnight passenger on Amtrak’s California Zephyr when he went missing from the train as it approached the station in Truckee, California. Police later found him foaming at the mouth and bleeding from the head in a remote area along the tracks with no vehicle or pedestrian access.
Investigators for the Amtrak Police Department say Salazar, who is gay, hurled himself out of the moving train in an attempted suicide.
Aaron Salazar on Friday, Aug. 31. He is recovering from injuries sustained while traveling on an Amtrak train to Portland at a rehab hospital in Colorado.
Contributed by the Salazar family
A spokeswoman for the FBI’s Sacramento field office declined to confirm or deny whether the FBI was investigating.
But Mathieu said the family was told that Aaron’s DNA sample will be examined at the FBI crime lab in Quantico, Virginia.
Mathieu said it’s his understanding that the DNA simple would be used to help in an analysis of Salazar’s clothing to see if an attacker may have been present.
“Aaron is making progress in his recovery and we’re so stoked,” Mathieu said. “We can’t wait to find out the DNA results.”
Salazar’s family members say they haven’t been given any evidence to support Amtrak’s theory that Salazar jumped from the train — a scenario that’s inconceivable to them.
Salazar himself can’t remember, at least not yet, what happened to him and family members are reluctant to push him to talk about it while he’s working toward regaining mobility and brain function.
The Portland State University student, who was born in Colorado but grew up in East Oahu’s Kalama Valley, is now recovering at a Colorado rehab facility.
A spokeswoman for the Amtrak Police Department said earlier this month that the investigation remains open, pending any new information or the opportunity to interview 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,” she said.
The department would not answer Civil Beat’s specific questions about the investigation and wouldn’t make available an investigator for an interview.
But Salazar’s family and friends say the buoyant 22-year-old would never intentionally hurt himself. They’ve even reached out to Hawaii’s congressional delegation, which prompted all four elected officials to send a letter to Amtrak insisting on a thorough investigation into what could be a hate crime.
The FBI’s new interest in Salazar’s case has only strengthened their position that Salazar was the victim of a brutal beating.
“We’re more confident than ever that Aaron didn’t try to kill himself,” Mathieu said. “Aaron has asked his sister, ‘What happened to me?’ and she told him Amtrak’s version and he replied. ‘I wouldn’t do that.’”
Thoughts on this or any other story? Write a Letter to the Editor. Send to firstname.lastname@example.org and put Letter in the subject line. 200 words max. You need to use your name and city and include a contact phone for verification purposes. And you can comment directly on this story by scrolling down a little further. We are enabling comments on some stories in the spirit of having a robust community conversation.
Sign up for our FREE morning newsletter and face each day more informed.
Our journalism needs your help.
While asking for your support is something we don’t like to do, the simple fact is that our reporters, our journalism, and our impact rely on it. Since lifting our paywall and becoming a nonprofit in mid-2016, our local newsroom has benefitted from a stream of charitable support from people who want our type of journalism to survive. People like you who understand that our work is essential to a better-informed community. If you value the work of our journalists, show us with your tax-deductible support.