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Police Say Suspect in Murder of Maryland Trans Woman Killed Because She 'Embarrassed' Him

Rico Hector Leblond

Rico Hector Leblond, the man who was arrested Saturday night in connection with the recent murder of 21-year-old Zella Ziona, a black transgender woman, reportedly gunned her down in retaliation for "acting flamboyantly towards Leblond" and embarrassing him, according to reports.

According to WJLA, a Washington, D.C.-area television station, Leblond, a 20-year-old resident of Germantown, Md., was apprehended at the Germantown Transit Center without incident. He has been charged with first-degree murder and is being held without bond.

Ziona was found shot in the head Thursday at about 5:50 p.m. in a service alley next to a laundromat in a Gaithersburg, Md., shopping center. She was pronounced dead at an area hospital at 8:12 p.m.

The Washington Blade quotes a police document that said Ziona "greatly embarrassed Leblond in front of his peers." 

The document is called a Statement of Probable Cause, and the newspaper reports it was filed in Montgomery County General District Court Saturday. The paperwork says witnesses told detectives that Leblond and Ziona knew each other and the shooting took place following a “simmering dispute that had been escalating” between the two. 

“I only saw one gun. It just happened so fast, and [it was] kind of scary,” a witness who refused to be identified told WJLA. The witness also claimed to have seen a man arguing with Ziona, as well as a confrontation with a group of people who appeared to be teenagers.

“[I] blew my horn, stayed on my horn long enough to get his attention, and then he looked up and took off running,” said another witness, who identified only as "Joe."

In addition to interviewing witnesses, WJLA reports that police reviewed the laudromat's surveillance tapes.

Ziona’s mother rushed to the scene of the shooting and collapsed in grief, according to WRC-TV, a local NBC station.   

Friends extolled Ziona's elegance, bravery, and kindness to WRC-TV. 

"She just wanted to embrace her life. She wanted to show the world how to be transgender," Ziona's friend Jasmine Black stressed. "She helped people. She inspired someone else named Chris to be himself."

Black shared that Ziona had only begun to identify openly as her true self over the last few months. Black often called Ziona for inspiration when she was troubled. 

"She was just amazing," added Barbie Johnson, another friend of Ziona, who considered her to be like a second mother to her daughter. 

Johnson’s daughter asked, “Where's Zella?" over and over again.

Calls to the Montgomery County police department and media center were not returned by press time.

Ziona is at least the 21st trans women murdered in the United States this year.

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