Forest Grove crew spreads love rocks around to riders as a positive response to recent murders on train

NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Jose Cassady and his 8-year-old son, Jaxton, filled a backpack with love rocks to hand out to riders on the MAX Saturday.Forest Grove resident Josiah Barker, 12, has decoupaged hundreds of "love rocks" with his mom Anneka over the last few years, mostly handing them out to the homeless or when they go on hikes.

Those skills came in handy over the last week as the pair spent their evenings cutting out little fabric hearts and decoupaging them onto small stones, filling two plastic bags to hand out Saturday, June 10, on the MAX.

The love rocks are a "friendly way of showing people they're loved and it makes me feel good to make people's days better," Josiah said. "I want to show people that love is stronger than fear."

About 10 people joined the Barkers on the public transportation line in an effort organized by Forest Grove resident Jose Cassady, 40, to spread love and joy on the train a few weeks after three riders were stabbed — and two died — while attempting to protect two girls from another rider's bigoted verbal attacks.

Cassady and his son, Jaxton, filled a backpack so full of love rocks the 8-year-old could barely lift it. The pair planned to hand out the rocks, set them on seats or leave them on benches at stops from Hillsboro into Portland. The Cassadys wanted to honor the "memory of those who stood up for love and equality."

Forest Grove resident Susan Dieter-Robinson started the love rocks movement in 2015 with her husband Tom after the deaths of their two daughters. Since then, the rocks have made their way around Forest Grove, as well as to other cities, states and even countries.

Dieter-Robinson met the group at the Hillsboro Transit Center to wish them well but did not board the train with them.

Courtney and Shaun Forbes, both 26, came all the way from Vancouver to join the mission and show their support for the message. "We heard about what happened on the MAX and we want to let everyone know it wasn't okay," Shaun said. "It's sad the way the world is coming and I wish it could be better."

Dilley resident Vickie Jares said she has also felt disheartened by what seems like a recent increase in hate over the last year, not just locally but across the nation and world. But she's also glad such previously hidden viewpoints are coming to light so society can start addressing them in meaningful ways.

"Anyone who feels that strongly about hating a group, there's something wrong with their wiring," said Jares, who has followed the love rocks movement from the beginning. "We enjoy using public transportation and we wanted to show support for the men who did the right thing. I would hope I would be so brave."

When the still rather empty MAX pulled up around noon, the love rocks crew boarded it and began setting love rocks on seats and, as the train began to fill, handing them to passengers.

At stops, Jaxton and his dad would hop out and set rocks around the station before jumping back on the train.

Jaxton handed his first rock to a woman who appeared somewhat startled and asked "What is this?" but calmed down and thanked him when he said "a love rock."

Jares handed a rock to Tri-Met rider Angel Calle, 21, who had never before heard of the movement but thought it was "pretty cool."

The love rocks are "a meaningful thing," said Calles, whose girlfriend was stabbed at the Lloyd Center MAX stop last month while she waited with friends. She is now recovering. "It's a big thing to deal with — forgiveness," he said.

MAX rider Wendy Goodyear, 47, of Sherwood, found one waiting for her on her seat. She hadn't heard of love rocks before either but "anything you can do to get people to be better and kinder to each other is a good thing," she said. "We need to learn to be better and provide joy to others."

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