Karine Jean-Pierre
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Trans Woman Shai Vanderpump, New Jersey Activist, Shot to Death

Shai Vanderpump

Shai Vanderpump, a 23-year-old Black transgender woman and LGBTQ+ activist in New Jersey, was shot to death in the capital city of Trenton early Friday morning.

About 4:40 a.m., police responded to a report of a shooting at a residence, The Trentonian reports. They found Vanderpump, who had been shot in the face. She was taken to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead shortly afterward.

Saturday night, police arrested Daniel L. Smith, 36, during a traffic stop. He is now charged with murder and several weapons violations.

Smith was the person who reported Vanderpump’s shooting to police, according to an affidavit obtained by The Trentonian. He said someone had roused him out of bed and there had been a shooting at the house. Witnesses placed him at the house, and security video showed him running through the parking lot at a YMCA and washing his hands in a puddle.

Police and prosecutors have not stated a motive for the crime, but they are investigating whether it was bias-related. She may have been killed while trying to protect another person, notes a crowdfunding page where money is being raised to cover her burial expenses.

Vanderpump was renowned “as a fierce LGBTQ advocate” in Trenton and across New Jersey, says a Facebook post from Garden State Equality, a statewide LGBTQ+ rights group. She is the 32nd trans, nonbinary, or gender-nonconforming person known to have died by violence in the U.S. this year. 2021 is on track to surpass 2020’s record of 44 such deaths.

“The loss of Shai Vanderpump is devastating,” said a statement from Tori Cooper, director of community engagement for the Human Rights Campaign’s Transgender Justice Initiative. “Shai was a well-known LGBTQ advocate in New Jersey, and her loss will be felt by her friends, family and local community, as well as the wider LGBTQ community. Her life should never have been taken. Too many transgender and gender-nonconforming lives have already been lost. We need everyone, in every state, city and community, to help bring an end to this senseless violence and stigma that so often impacts Black trans women.”

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