Police have charged a suspect with first-degree murder in the fatal January 26 shooting of 24-year-old trans woman Ty Underwood in North Tyler, Texas, reports local news station KLTV.
Carlton Ray Champion, Jr., 21, was charged on Monday after electronic and video evidence revealed that he was meeting Underwood for a date at the time she was killed. Police say that Champion, a student at Texas College, and Underwood, a nursing assistant planning to attend Kilgore College's nursing program, had been in a "brief relationship" prior to Underwood's death. Champion was originally detained on January 29 for a probation violation while officials continued to investigate his suspected connection to Underwood's murder.
Champion became a suspect after tips from Underwood's friends led police to identify him as the man she'd been dating for several weeks prior to her death, notes an affadavit filed in support of an arrest warrant for Champion obtained by local news station KYTX. Police confirmed his and Underwood's relationship through communications on Champion's cell phone and tablet that dated back to January 19.
The investigation revealed messages between the pair, sent hours before Underwood's death, on January 25 via phone application Kik. The messages indicate that Champion reportedly backed out on an agreement to meet Underwood in person that night, leading her to suspect he may have been dating another person, and telling him she no longer wished to see him. Champion allegedly responded, "That's how it is now, I will make it up."
Several more messages allegedly transpired where the couple's anger seemed to escalate, with Champion concluding, "Na, fuck this I ain't done I'm on my way up there, where you gone be at?!?!?" Several follow-up messages indicate that Underwood and Champion agreed to meet on 25th Street.
Surveillance video also reportedly captured Champion leaving his dorm room shortly after that conversation ended, in the early morning hours of January 26. The jacket Champion wore in the video tested positive for blood, the origin of which cannot yet be confirmed, according to KYTX.
Police found Underwood early on January 26 on 24th Street when responding to a 911 call from a woman who said her children heard gunshots and that a car had run into a telephone pole nearby. Detective Andy Erbaugh told reporters he belived that Underwood was near or inside the car when shots were fired at it; Underwood was likely struck while she was trying to drive away.
While many of Underwood's friends and supporters say they believe her murder was a hate crime, officials say they are not investigating it as such. Champion is currently being held on $1,000,000 bond.
Anyone with information regarding this case is asked to call the Tyler Police Department at (903) 531-1000 or Tyler-Smith County Crime Stoppers at (903) 597-2833.