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Nonbinary Indigenous Person Killed During Robbery in Pennsylvania

Whispering Wind Bear Spirit

Whispering Wind Bear Spirit, a 41-year-old nonbinary Indigenous person, was shot to death during an attempted robbery in York, Pa., last week.

They are the 22nd transgender, nonbinary, or gender-nonconforming person confirmed to have died by violence this year, putting 2021 on track to exceed 2022’s record total of 44 such deaths. Most victims in both years were women of color.

At least three people were involved in the robbery attempt, police told local media. The evening of May 3, they entered a home where Bear Spirit was staying with friends, Pennsylvania TV station WPMT reports. Police said the suspects were trying to recover a pound of marijuana supposedly taken from them by a resident of the home.

Bear Spirit was shot once in the torso while trying to stop the robbery as a male resident of the house was being assaulted, according to WPMT. Bear Spirit was taken to a nearby hospital for emergency surgery but died during the operation early in the morning of May 4. Their name was not released to the media until Friday, and at that time several outlets used a deadname.

Charges were filed Monday against one of the robbery suspects, Oscar Cook, 19, of York. He was charged with burglary, robbery, and conspiracy to commit burglary and robbery, WPMT reports. Police said there are at least two other known suspects but have not released their names or any information about charges.

Bear Spirit was “Shawnee by birth and Potawatomi by relations,” according to their social media postings. Friends are sharing memories.

“I loved her very much and will be receiving her ashes,” Tammy Johnston posted on Facebook. “I’ve picked out a beautiful Native American urn with a white bear spirit on it. I will be creating a memorial place for her at our cabin, appropriately named the bear house … . She will finally have a permanent and peaceful home with us.”

“We continue to receive reports of transgender and nonbinary people who have been killed in the last few weeks,” said an online statement from Tori Cooper, the Human Rights Campaign’s director of community engagement for its Transgender Justice Initiative.  “This violence is heartbreaking and unacceptable. Our hearts go out to everyone in Whispering Wind Bear Spirit’s community. Everyone must speak up in support of trans and nonbinary lives and take action to help bring this violence to an end.”

The York City Police Department is investigating Bear Spirit’s death as a homicide. Anyone with information is asked to call (717) 846-1234, submit a tip at (717) 849-2204, email abaez@yorkcity.org, or contact Crime Stoppers at (717) 755-TIPS.

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