Aaron Salazar texted his grandmother at 9:06 a.m. on May 15 to tell her about a new "friend" he just made.
Salazar, a 22-year-old student at Portland State University, was traveling from Denver to Portland on an Amtrak train — and told his grandma that he planned to explore Sacramento during a layover with the unidentified person, his cousin Sonia Trujillo told Fox31. But he never made it there.
Instead, the university student was found unconscious near train tracks at an Amtrak station in Truckee, California, with a damaged brain stem, a broken pelvis and nose, a bruised ribcage and a severely burned inner thigh later that day, according to the Reno Gazette Journal. His family is arguing that the incident seems to be a hate crime because Salazar is gay and none of the money in his pocket was stolen.
Trujillo told the Reno Gazette Journal that doctors at Renown Hospital in Nevada, where Salazar was rushed for treatment in a coma, said the injuries suggest the man was beaten by someone — but have remained silent because of the investigation into the alleged crime.
“His injuries are consistent with a beating, in my opinion,” she said in an interview with the newspaper.
And Austin Sailas, another cousin of the injured 22-year-old, told the Los Angeles Blade that Salazar also has a black eye and "his left hand had marks as if he punched somebody in self-defense." There also appeared to be blood under his fingernails, Salazar's sister Alyssa said.
But authorities with Amtrak, who are investigating the case because it happened on the company's property, said they aren't quite sure that Salazar was assaulted, Patch.com reported. They released a statement that said "there's nothing to suggest criminal intent" in the case.
Amtrak denied a request for further comment from Fox31 and the Reno Gazette Journal, citing the ongoing investigation.
But Salazar's cousin said she got a close look at his injuries — and "there's no way that he was pushed off a train or jumped off a train."
She specifically mentioned the injuries to his thigh.
"The burns on his leg were horrifying. It did not look like him at all," Trujillo told Fox40. "I believe it was something deeper because the burn marks. Why burn somebody? If you're gonna hurt somebody, hurt them. But why are you gonna burn somebody?"
Salazar's family also questioned why local police haven't gotten involved, according to The Reno Gazette Journal. They told the newspaper that Amtrak officials refuse to answer questions like how long was Salazar lying next to the tracks and when was he found.
Sgt. Danny Renfrow, who is from the Truckee Police Department, told The Reno Gazette Journal that Amtrak leads investigations for alleged crimes on its trains.
According to The Los Angeles Blade, Sailas also said that Amtrak investigators have Salazar's iPhone and laptop — but haven't yet looked through them yet. The family said that should happen because it could provide clues as to what happened and identify the mysterious "friend" that Salazar texted his grandmother about.
“Something happened there," Trujillo told Fox31. "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 no injuries consistent with a train going 60 to 70 miles an hour. No damage to his clothes."
In the meantime, family members are staying by Salazar's side as he recovers in the Nevada hospital, according to a GoFundMe page created to help cover medical expenses. Sailas wrote on the page that the family is feeling good about Salazar's progress — but not about Amtrak's investigation.
"Aaron has been trying to open his eyes recently and we are very optimistic, we can feel his presence in his eyes," he wrote. "Aaron is still healing from the burns, and has been fighting a fever but even still his progress is remarkable.
"Unfortunately as many know we have been fighting with the AMTRAK department for answers and at this point we are expecting a very long, and expensive process and are ready to fight."