Marilyn Monroe Cazares, a 22-year-old homeless transgender woman, was found dead in Brawley, Calif., Monday morning, and her death is being investigated as a homicide.
Brawley police and firefighters discovered her body near an abandoned building when they responded to a call about a couch fire in the area around 8:30 a.m., The Desert Review reports. The police department has released few details, but members of Cazares’s family said she had been stabbed and set on fire.
“I believe it was a hate crime because [she] was stabbed and [she] was burned, and, you know, that’s so hateful to do to somebody,” the victim’s sister Aubrey Cazares told The Desert Review.
Police officers have not yet concluded that Cazares’s death was a hate crime, however. “This is just the early part of the investigative process, so we’re just investigating as a homicide right now,” Commander Brett Houser said in a press release. “We haven’t established motive or anything of that nature yet.”
Cazares was from Westmorland, located like Brawley in California’s Imperial Valley, in the southeastern part of the state. She and her siblings were brought up by their grandparents after their parents separated, The Desert Review notes. Cazares, who came out as trans at age 18, was welcome in the family home but preferred living on the street, relatives told the paper. She “was a different person” there, her aunt Sonia Casteñeda said.
“That might sound a little crazy to me and you, but I think that’s where [she] was accepted,” Casteñeda said. “Some of us didn’t understand the life [she] led. Some of us accepted it, and some of us had the old mentality of you’re not supposed to be living life like that, and some of us just loved [her] unconditional.”
Casteñeda said Cazares was an admirer of Marilyn Monroe and current celebrities such as Nicki Minaj and Cardi B, and “was just fabulous; always rocking crazy outfits, crazy wigs.”
Cazares had endured bullying as a child but was tough and would fight back, her sister Aubrey said. Marilyn could have gotten into a situation she couldn’t fight her way out of, Aubrey added.
Casteñeda also said she thinks Marilyn was the victim of a hate crime, but she trusts the police to do a thorough investigation and believes local tipsters may help. “Everybody knows everybody here, so I just hope the people that know something will come forward,” she said.
The Brawley police ask that anyone with information contact Det. Sgt. Jesse Rotner at (760) 351-7777.
Cazares is one of more than 20 trans or nonbinary people to die by violence in the U.S. this year. Most of them have been Black or Latinx women.