Two transgender women were murdered in Puerto Rico this week, bringing the number of known murders of trans people in the U.S. territory to four.
Serena Angelique Velázquez and Layla Pelaez’s bodies were found in a car under a bridge Wednesday in the town of Humacao, Puerto Rican newspaper El Nuevo Día reports. Another paper in the territory, Primera Hora, said their deaths took place Tuesday. They had been shot and their car set on fire.
Velázquez was reportedly a visitor to the island, as she was holding an airline ticket to return to Queens, N.Y., according to Primera Hora. Pelaez also was apparently a visitor, having been in Puerto Rico two months, the paper reports.
Police were reluctant to release the names of the deceased, but they were identified by LGBTQ rights activist Pedro Julio Serrano, who said police had spoken with their families. He and other activists urged the police to investigate the possibility that the murders were motivated by anti-trans bias.
The National Center for Transgender Equality called for a comprehensive investigation. “Transgender people should be able to live their lives without fear of violence or discrimination,” Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, NCTE’s deputy executive director for policy and action, said in a press release. “The government of Puerto Rico has an obligation and a duty to take these violent crimes seriously, to investigate them thoroughly and with sensitivity, and to increase its efforts to protect transgender people from violence and discrimination. It is up to all of us to call attention to this violence and to hold authorities accountable for keeping their communities safe for everyone.”
In February, Alexa Negrón Luciano, a homeless trans woman, was shot to death in the Puerto Rican town of Toa Baja, hours after being reported to police for using a women’s restroom at a McDonald’s. In March, trans man Yampi Méndez Arocho was fatally shot in another town in the territory, Moca. Activists say at least eight LGBTQ people have been murdered in Puerto Rico in the past 15 months.
Velázquez and Pelaez are the eighth and ninth trans people known to have been murdered in the U.S. in 2020.