PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Just inside the front doors of the Hair of the Dog Brewing Company on Portland’s Central Eastside is a photograph of Michael Olson with a quote on it: “What train?”
Michael always had a good attitude, owner Alan Sprints told KOIN 6 News. “Some people can get very upset about little things and I don’t think he was one of those people.”
The brewery is near train tracks and people complain about the train noise, he said. Michael “would always say, ‘What train?’ and so that’s the quote on the picture.”
Michael Olson started working as a dishwasher at Hair of the Dog and then became a server. “He quickly became a very popular person around here. He was very likable and lovable,” Sprints said.
He and Olson’s co-workers created the picture tribute to Olson after he was shockingly shot to death 5 years ago — a case that remains unsolved.
“It impacted everybody who worked here,” Sprints said. “Everybody was grieving and a lot of people are still suffering with it.”
Those people include Michael’s parents, Sandra and Jim Olson, who live in Florida. They spoke recently with KOIN 6 News by Skype.
“We’re very sad,” Sandra said. “It’s not something you get over as a parent. It’s always there. You just learn to live with it.”
On November 8, Michael Olson would have turned 36.
The night Michael Olson was killed
On September 30, 2014, Michael sent a text to his parents: “Love you both a million. a billion. a non-number indicating lots and lotsitude.”
A little later he went to a bachelor party in Southeast Portland. “They ran out of beer so he made a beer run with his buddy,” Sandra said.
On their way back a car stopped and someone told them to hand over their beer, she said. “The boys said no.”
Just after 11 p.m., Portland police responded to a shooting along SE 52nd in the Woodstock neighborhood.
“One guy just reached up and shot Michael in the back of the head,” Sandra said. “Michael collapsed.”
The friend who was with Michael “ran for his life and thank goodness he survived,” she said.
Sandra also said police “determined Michael and the suspect had absolutely no relationship, that it was a random act of violence, which makes it difficult for police to pursue the case.”
Investigators released a sketch of the suspect, but no arrest in the case has ever been made.
“It was such a senseless act of violence. We’d like to know why,” Sandra said. “That’s one answer I would like to ask the person. Why? He wasn’t armed. He wasn’t going to harm you. Why?”
The text, the poetry, the plaque at the zoo
When Sandra realized Michael sent her that text a few hours before he was murdered, “that made it even more special.”
Michael was scheduled to visit his parents just 5 days later. “We had moved to Florida in April and he had never seen our house down here.”
Still, Michael’s parents said he would want his friends and family — including his brother and sister — to go on with their lives. So, they focus on the good times.
Michael moved to Portland around 2009. He worked at Hair of the Dog and did some bartending — and he loved Portland, they said.
“He was very funny and very smart,” Sandra said. “He was a very kind person. He was kind to his friends. Those were the kind of comments we got from people, too, so it wasn’t just our particular bias.”
He “loved to sing, both on key and off key,” she said. “He was a poet.”
There’s even a book of Michael’s poetry at Hair of the Dog Brewing Company compiled by his friends.
“It’s sold on Amazon. It’s not a best seller, but it’s on Amazon,” she said, laughing. “What’s important to me, one of his friends said to me, ‘Now I’ll always have Michael’s words.'”
Sprints said Michael loved animals, so they raised $20,000 for the education center at the Oregon Zoo. “There’s a little plaque there to remember Mikey’s life.”
And the year after he died, Sprints “gave all the employees jackets with his name on it.”
Family and friends also hope someone will speak up for Michael by giving information to police about his murder.
“It’s not going to bring Mikey back,” Alan Sprints said. “It doesn’t take away the grief. But, you know, it’s a little bit of justice if there is somebody who is actually held responsible for it.”
“The detective assures me the file is still on his desk and he just feels someday that we’ll have a breakthrough,” Sandra said. “Somebody has to know something. I mean, there was more than one person there, so someone knows something.”