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Black Trans Teen Ariyanna Mitchell Fatally Shot in Virginia

Ariyanna Mitchell

Mitchell's accused killer asked if she was a boy or a girl, according to court documents.

Black transgender girl Ariyanna Mitchell, 17, was a high school student who loved dancing and styling hair. But her life ended violently at a party in Hampton, Va., April 2, and the accused killer asked her if she was a boy or a girl before shooting her.

Mitchell was fatally shot while intervening in a fight, according to local TV station WAVY, which misgendered and deadnamed her. The suspect, Jimmy Leshawn Williams, had been asked by his girlfriend to shoot a friend of Mitchell's and others at the party, the friend told WAVY.

Court documents cited by the station say he asked Mitchell who was involved in the dispute and questioned if she was a boy or a girl. She said boy, although she did identify as female. He then shot her several times, police said, and she was pronounced dead at the scene. Williams has been arrested and charged with murder.

Mitchell was in her junior year at the East End Academy and was a dancer at the Triple E (Electra Eagles Elite) Dance Academy, an online obituary notes. "She was truly unique, funny, and loved by everyone," the obit says. "There was never a dull moment when Ariyanna was around."

The friend who spoke to WAVY added, "She always has a big smile on her face. Always had one. Always had one."

Mitchell is at least the 12th trans, nonbinary, or gender-nonconforming American to die by violence this year. There are likely many more victims, unacknowledged because of deadnaming and misgendering, or lack of reporting in general.

"Ariyanna had her whole life ahead of her as a talented dancer, a beloved friend and daughter and whatever dreams she might have chosen to pursue," Tori Cooper, the Human Rights Campaign's director of community engagement for its Transgender Justice Initiative, said in a press release. "Instead, she died heroically protecting a friend, taking a bullet so her friend could escape. Her killer had the audacity to question her gender before shooting her, showing the horrific connection between transphobia and misogyny. We must all work to create a society free from the scourge of gun violence."

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