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A transgender woman, 23-year-old Lashai Mclean (pictured), was shot to death in northeast Washington, D.C., early Wednesday morning. Police say the investigation is still under way but, according to The Washington Times, the shooting occurred about 10 blocks from a group home for homeless gay and transgender youth where Mclean had sought housing assistance.
"A lot of our clients hang out there," Brian Watson, programs director for Transgender Health Empowerment, told reporters. Mclean, who also went by "Shay," was reportedly a regular client of Watson's group, a D.C. nonprofit organization that provides housing, counseling, and medical testing for LGBT youth.
Local police have not ruled out anti-transgender bias as a motive, and Mayor Vincent C. Gray urged citizens to let the police do their job before they jump to conclusions. But he told the Times, "Every homicide in the District of Columbia is a tragedy for which the perpetrators must be brought to swift justice. However, if the investigation concludes that this shooting was the result of bias based on sexual orientation or gender identity ... my administration will see that there is an appropriate response to this kind of violence, which cannot be tolerated." Hate crimes related to gender identity or sexual orientation have escalated in recent years, according to a report by the D.C. Metropolitan Police.
Two male suspects are currently being sought for questioning. The shooting happened just hours after another shooting in a nearby D.C. neighborhood. The victim in the latter case survived but is in serious condition. There are no reports on whether the two incidents are linked, though both areas are near high-crime neighborhoods where firefighters have been posted to help provide extra security for residents.
As news of Mclean's death spread swiftly among transgender residents -- many gathering at the Transgender Health Empowerment office -- her friends and family reacted to the murder in a report by the local Fox TV affiliate.
"That was my cousin," said Lay Lai Hancock. "I loved her to death. I'm sorry they've taken her away, but she's in a better place."
"Shay, she was the caring type," said friend Domo Hardy. "She cared about a lot of people and she showed that."
"I'm in shock. I just don't understand how something like this can happen to her, and as a person, because she is a very nice person," Michele Spikes added.
Earline Budd, an executive with the agency, told reporters that transgender women are always at risk.
"It's been time and time again we've been getting calls here at Transgender Health Empowerment about stabbings. They've been shot and they've been beat up and I can just say that I can't say Shay was involved in any illegal activities in terms of being there, but I can tell you clearly that area has a lot of violence and we work very closely to educate young ladies," said Budd.
Mclean's boyfriend, Jason Coleman, is reportedly devastated by the loss. He told NBC Washington, "It just hurts my heart. It hurts me terrible. I don't know what I'm going to do without her."