Friends and family of an Iowa teenager are still looking for answers about how the 16-year-old trans and gender-fluid high school student ended up dead of gunshot wounds in a dark alley near 11:30 p.m. on March 2.
Kedarie/Kandicee Johnson used two names and identified as both transgender and gender-fluid, according to family and friends interviewed by the Des Moines Register. Consequently, while the family’s obituary and news reports use masculine pronouns (which, by all accounts, the teenager did not repudiate), to affirm all of the individual’s experiences, the deceased is identified here with the gender-neutral pronoun “they.”
Police in Burlington, Iowa, found Johnson after responding to calls from neighbors, who said that they heard “five to six” gunshots fired in the area, reports local newspaper The Hawk Eye. No weapon was found, and while the police originally indicated they were following several leads, three individuals were detained and then released after questioning. No official cause of death has been released, and the Burlington Police Department did not respond to queries by press time.
Police detectives “went door-to-door,” according to The Hawk Eye, interviewing potential witnesses, but were only informed that two vehicles were seen speeding away from the area after the gunshots rang out into the night. Both vehicles — a white SUV and a blue van — are believed to be involved in the alleged homicide. But the police have not publicly announced a motive for the crime.
While police told the Register that they are using all of the department’s resources to solve the case, no movement has occurred in the investigation since Johnson’s killing. Police contend that no evidence exists to suggest that Johnson's killing was motivated by the teen's gender-fluid identity. But Johnson's mother told the Register she believes the taking of her child’s life is a hate crime based on the teen’s gender identity.
Johnson “had this beautiful smile,” Shaunda Campbell, a counselor at Burlington High School where Johnson was a junior, told the Register, noting that “there wasn’t a mean bone” in the teen’s body.
Johnson was an avid dancer, particularly at Maple Leaf Center, a community center in the South Hill neighborhood. The teen was also a burgeoning stylist who adored fashioning their hair in colorful coiffures. They also enjoyed “singing, listening to music, hanging out with friends, and surfing the Internet,” recalls the family’s obituary.
Read more about Johnson's life and death here.