The death of a transgender woman in Cleveland has been ruled a homicide, making it the 23rd reported murder of a trans person in the U.S. this year.
Brandi Bledsoe, 32, died of a gunshot wound to the chest, the Cuyahoga County medical examiner ruled Thursday, The Plain Dealer of Cleveland reports. She was found dead Saturday around 10 a.m. in a driveway behind a house, with plastic bags over her head and both hands, according to the paper. She had also suffered head trauma. Her body was discovered by a young boy riding his bike.
Initial reports misgendered Bledsoe, but then members of her family came forward to say she was a trans woman, having come out to them two years ago. Bledsoe, a Home Depot employee and animation artist, was much happier once she began presenting as her authentic self, relatives said.
"She wasn't very outgoing before she told us," her cousin John Craggett told The Plain Dealer. "She just wasn't happy with who she was. When she told us, she was honestly a lot better as Brandi. She was happy."
"She was really beautiful," Craggett added. "She was really sweet and nice. That's what bugs the crap out of me about this. Whoever did this can rot in hell."
Bledsoe had grown up in Nebraska and moved to Cleveland several years ago, family members said. She had lived with her grandfather in Cleveland for a time, but she recently got a place of her own.
"We got along great when she lived with me," Johnnie Ledbetter, her grandfather, told The Plain Dealer. "I wish she was around more after she moved out."
She is at least the fourth transgender woman killed in Cleveland since 2012, the paper reports. Police said they are taking her identity into consideration in investigating the crime, but they have yet to determine a motive or make an arrest.
The nationwide count of reported murders of trans people has already made 2016 the deadliest year on record, and Bledsoe's death puts it two above 2015's total of 21. The actual number is likely much higher, as many trans people are misgendered in death, or their murders are not reported by media.
[RELATED: These Are the Trans People Killed in 2016]