How Did a Young Gay Man Wind Up Burned and Unconscious on Train Tracks?

Aaron Salazar

Relatives of a gay man severely injured during an Amtrak trip last week say they believe he was beaten in a hate crime, but Amtrak officials insist  “there is nothing to suggest criminal intent.”

Aaron Salazar, 22, is a student at Portland State University in Oregon. He was returning to Portland on an Amtrak train from Denver after visiting his family in Colorado, according to media reports. Instead of returning to Portland, he was found May 15 lying by railroad tracks in Truckee, Calif., a town near Lake Tahoe, critically injured and unconscious. He has a broken pelvis and damaged brain stem, and remains in a coma at a hospital in Reno, Nev.

The last person to hear from him was his great-grandmother, the Reno Gazette Journal reports. He had texted her that he’d made a friend on the train and they were going to explore Sacramento together, as there was a 10-hour layover in the California capital. But he never got there; a station employee found him at Truckee, where the train was making a brief stop.

“The Amtrak Police Department is conducting an ongoing investigation into this incident," said a statement released the company. "At this time, there is nothing to suggest criminal intent. Anyone with information is asked to contact the Amtrak Police Department at 800-331-0008.”

Members of Salazar’s family, though, don’t believe his injuries were the result of an accident.

“Something happened there,” his cousin Sonia Trujillo told Denver TV station KDVR. “You can’t say a kid, you know, jumped out of a train or fell out of a train and this kid does not have … injuries consistent with a train going 60 to 70 miles an hour. No damage to his clothes. There’s not a scratch on his arms or his legs, and you’re flying out of a train?  It makes no sense to me. I honestly believe that he was beaten.”

He did have severe burns on his inner thighs, Trujillo told the Gazette Journal, which to her indicates that someone set out to hurt him. The nature of his injuries and the fact that he’s gay make the family suspect he was the victim of a hate crime, the paper reports, noting that Salazar was carrying money but it wasn’t stolen.  Also, “his left hand had marks as if he punched somebody in self-defense,” another cousin, Austin Sailas, told the Los Angeles Blade. Family members additionally wonder about the role played by his new “friend,” who didn’t report Salazar missing.

“It’s very puzzling,” Trujillo told the Gazette Journal. “It doesn’t make any sense.” 

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