Pictured, from left: Fifty Bandz, Remy Fennell, Rayana Pardo
2021 is the deadliest year on record for transgender, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming Americans. As of December, The Advocate has documented that 57 members of this population have died by violence, surpassing 2020's record of 44. LGBTQ+ organizations and media have been tracking these numbers for about eight years. There may have been some increase in accurate reporting, but much deadnaming and misgendering of these individuals still takes place, meaning there are likely far many more victims.
Black trans women are the majority of the victims; they often are endangered by racism and poverty as well as transphobia. But trans men and members of other races are victims of violence as well.
There is a great deal of information about some of those we've lost, very little about some others. In this gallery, The Advocate seeks to honor their memories by presenting them as the unique, complex individuals they were.
The first reported violent death of a transgender American in 2021 was that of Tyianna “Davarea” Alexander, 28, in Chicago. She was found shot in the head on a street on the city's south side January 6 and was pronounced dead at the scene. A man accompanying her, Brandon Gowdy, 31, was hit in the arm and was taken to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead. The shots were fired from a vehicle. Homicide detectives are investigating the crime.
Alexander is being remembered fondly. “Beverly Ross, a trans advocate and community sister who grew up with Tyianna, said that she was a loving person who everyone loved to be around,” notes a press release from the National Black Justice Coalition. “She loved to dance, had a great sense of humor, enjoyed life when she could, and just wanted to be able to ‘vibe and thrive.’”
Samuel Edmund Damián Valentín was found dead on a highway in Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico, January 9. A driver had hit what she thought was an object on the road, then stopped and realized she had hit a dead person. Valentín had been shot several times in various parts of his body.
He was misgendered in initial reports, something that was called out by activist Pedro Julio Serrano of Puerto Rico Para Tod@s. “One of the most serious problems we have with the Police and the Department of Justice is that they do not identify LGBTTIQ + people in their incident reports,” he said in a press release. “Almost every time an LGBTTIQ + person is murdered, it is the community itself that identifies them. The Police and Justice fail to comply with their protocols and it even seems that they want to ignore, make invisible and minimize the serious problem of the wave of homophobic and transphobic violence that haunts us like never before. This has to stop and the government has to act immediately to tackle this crisis.” At least 12 LGBTQ+ people have died by violence in the territory in the past two years, he said.
Serrano urged police to investigate the possibility that Valentín’s death was a hate crime. Police said they are looking at all possible motives.
Bianca “Muffin” Bankz, 30, was fatally shot in her apartment in Atlanta January 17. Police believe her killer was a man named Moses Allen, who then took his own life.
Their bodies were discovered by Bankz’s roommate, with whom she had often lived on the streets. Bankz had moved into the apartment just a few weeks before she died. Police said the incident is likely to remain classified as a murder-suicide. “[Investigators] are not looking for any outstanding people of interest in this case. This was not random and is not a threat to the public,” spokesperson TaSheena Brown told Project Q Atlanta.
Bankz was a former foster child who was “just blossoming into herself,” Jesse Pratt López, founder and co-director of the Trans Housing Coalition, said at a memorial vigil last week, according to the publication. “Muffin hadn’t been in the apartment for … even a month, and we were helping her get a job. We actually had the job interview scheduled for her the day after she died,” López said.
Bankz, who acquired her nickname due to her love of blueberry muffins, hoped to one day compete on RuPaul’s Drag Race, friends said. Angel Karmarain recalled her as “sweet and kind.”
Dominique Jackson, 30, was found dead in her car January 25 in Jackson, Miss., after her aunt reported she had been missing for three days. She had crashed her car into a utility pole after being shot. Jackson (not to be confused with the trans actress of the same name) was well known in her community as the mother of the Hause of Redd and founder of the Ladi Redd Inc.
“Dominique was a mother, a sister, a leader, and a necessity to our community,” Sage Dolan-Sandrino, Monica Roberts Fellow at the National Black Justice Coalition, said in a press release. “Although I never met Dominique, I am sure she was exactly who I needed when I was young and transitioning — a light source, an example of who I could become, proof that there was a future for me. Trans women have fought for everyone throughout history, yet we are still being murdered by the same people who we liberated. We give our lives in ways no one should ever be expected to, only to be met with constant hate, discrimination, violence, and disenfranchisement. Trans women deserve better. There is a war on our lives at hand and no one is sending soldiers to our aid.”
“Dominique’s life has been extinguished and her friends are devastated,” Human Rights Campaign State Director Rob Hill told local TV station WLBT. “Her family are devastated. And so many of Dominique’s friends are trans Black women who are fearing for their lives, even more so than they were before. But I do hope that this helps people to see that this is a real problem.”
Branden McLaurin, 25, was arrested in February and is charged with murder.
Fifty Bandz, 21, of Baton Rouge, La., was shot to death January 28. Four days later, police arrested Michael Joshua Brooks, 20, with whom she had been in a relationship and who had threatened her life previously, according to local media, which deadnamed Bandz. He is charged with second-degree murder.
The two had a “volatile” relationship, Baton Rouge’s Advocate newspaper reports (the paper is not related to this Advocate). They had broken up for a time but started dating again recently, and police say the shooting occurred during an argument.
Bandz’s death is an example of intimate partner violence, which trans people experience at a higher rate than cisgender people. In 2020, 70 percent of trans and gender-nonconforming people who died by violence “were killed by an acquaintance, friend, family member or intimate partner,” the Human Rights Campaign notes.
“This level of violence is infuriating and heartbreaking,” Tori Cooper, director of community engagement for HRC’s Trans Justice Initiative, said in a press release. “This is an epidemic of violence that must be stopped. We will continue to affirm that Black Trans Lives Matter and say the names of those we have lost, including Fifty Bandz, but we must do more. Fifty was killed by someone she knew — if we can’t trust the people we know, who can we trust? We need everyone to take action to bring this horrific violence to an end.”
Alexus Braxton, also known as Kimmy Icon Braxton, was found dead in a Miami condominium complex February 4. Miami-Dade County Police are investigating her death as a homicide but have declined to release details on how she died, saying it would compromise the investigation.
"The family was left with no closure, and they're suffering tremendously because of the death and the manner in which our victim was murdered," Miami-Dade Police Detective Juan Segovia said in a video posted on Twitter.
Braxton was the daughter of a board member of Hollywood, Fla.’s LGBTQ Council, the organization posted on Facebook. Police are offering a reward of up to $5,000 for information that leads to an arrest in the case. They ask that tips be submitted to Detective J. Segova at (305) 471-2400 or to Miami-Dade County Crime Stoppers at (866) 471-8477 or CrimeStoppersMiami.com.
Police were called February 18 to a house in New Wilmington Borough, where they found a man beating Chyna Carrillo with a blunt objects. They ordered the man to cease, but he did not, and an officer shot and killed him at the scene. Carrillo was taken to a hospital in nearby Youngstown, Ohio, where she died of her injuries. Police later identified her attacker as Juan Carter Hernandez, 33, who had been imprisoned in North Carolina. He had shot his wife, Kandace Hernandez, to death at their home in that state in July 2011. He claimed he acted in self-defense, but in 2014 he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to eight to 10 years in prison. He had recently been living in Campbell, Ohio.
Carrillo, who was also known as Chyna Cardena, was a certified nursing assistant at the Grove at New Wilmington, a nursing home that was next to the house where she was attacked. She had moved to Pennsylvania from Springdale, Ark., in what she hoped would be a positive change, friends and family said. She had worked at a hospital and nursing home in Arkansas. She would have turned 25 March 3. “I’m going to be celebrating a birthday with an angel in heaven,” said her mother, Lilia Carrillo.
Jeffery “JJ” Bright, a 16-year-old trans boy, and his nonbinary sibling, 22-year-old Jasmine Canady, died February 22 after both were shot in the head at their home in Ambridge, Pa.
The two young people’s mother, Krisinda Ann Bright, was arrested and charged with two counts of criminal homicide. Police said she called 911 and said she had killed her children, and when they arrived she was covered in blood. At least one of the children begged her not to shoot, the criminal complaint against her states.
In September, Krisinda Bright entered a plea of not guilty in Beaver County court. Prosecutors said if she is tried and found guilty, they will seek the death penalty, although Pennsylvania has had a moratorium on executions since 2015. Her attorneys are scheduled to meet with prosecutors in November, and her next court appearance is scheduled for January.
Friends said the siblings had a “complicated” relationship with their mother. At a vigil for the victims, held February 23, attendees emphasized the need to respect everyone’s gender identity and to recognize when a person is in crisis and needs the help of mental health professionals — something that might have prevented the tragedy.
Jaci Palmer, founder of the local LGBTQ+ group PRISM, which organized the vigil, said Canady and Bright would be amazed to see the outpouring of support at the event, attended by more than 100 people. “These two kids deserve this love and support from their communities,” she said. “Just love your kids; tomorrow’s not promised, and all these kids want is to be loved and accepted for who they are. These tragedies don’t need to happen.”
Jenna Franks, 34, who was homeless, was found dead in a creek near a bike trail in Jacksonville, N.C., February 24. Autopsy results released later indicated she died of multiple stab wounds. Her death is being investigated as a homicide and a hate crime. North Carolina hate-crimes law does not cover crimes motivated by the victim’s gender identity, but federal law does. No arrest has been made so far; rewards are being offered for information that helps solve the case.
“Jenna was a beloved member of the LGBTQ+ community, and her absence has been felt by her friends and family members,” Robert Wells, FBI special agent in charge, told TV station WITN. “We do not believe this was a random act. There is a strong possibility the person who did this continues to work and/or live in the community. We believe someone has information to help us get justice for Jenna and her family.”
“Everyone I have spoken with, especially at her memorial service, said that she was a delight to be with,” added Samuel Johnson, director for communications at the Onslow County LGBTQ+ Community Center. “She was an amazing person inside and out. I still cannot fathom that this happened. Being here my whole life, I never thought anything like this could happen, so it’s kind of just taken us all aback for just a little bit, but we’re still here we’re still pushing forward.”
Aidelen Evans, 24, was found dead in a canal in Port Arthur, Texas, in March. Police announced in July that they believe her death is a homicide.
Port Arthur police initially investigated, but now police in nearby Beaumont have taken over the case, due to evidence that she was killed in Beaumont and then taken to the canal. They have not commented on how she was killed.
Local media have called Evans a transient who had spent time in Beaumont, Port Arthur, and Houston, but her mother told San Antonio TV station WOAI that Evans could turn to family members for shelter.
“My child was loving. My child was very happy. My child lived in her truth every day,” Joy Griffin said. Evans had been harassed for being transgender and was even shot when walking with a group of friends in 2017, Griffin said.
Griffin hopes to start a support group, called Aidelen’s Angels, for parents who have lost children to violence.
Diamond Kyree Sanders, 23, was shot to death during a robbery in Cincinnati March 3. Sanders was found about 4 a.m. that day in the parking lot of an apartment building in Cincinnati’s Clifton neighborhood, known for its historic homes and popular restaurants and bars. She was taken to a nearby hospital, where she died shortly thereafter.
Police said they do not believe the shooting was motivated by her gender identity. It was instead a “crime of greed,” Sgt. Eric Franz of the Cincinnati Police Department told the Cincinnati Enquirer.
In September, three people were arrested in connection with her death: Christopher Hisle, 28, Franchez Rivers, 33, and Kiara Davis, 29. They are charged with murder, aggravated robbery, and felonious assault.
Sanders’s family and friends remembered her fondly. “Diamond was a ball of energy as a child and even up to her time of death,” reads an obituary posted on the Preston Charles Funeral Home’s website. “She valued her family and enjoyed spending time with them. As a child, she would say ‘I love my WHOLE family!’ At the last family Thanksgiving dinner, Diamond let her family know she was thankful that they accepted her for who she was,” including her trans identity. She loved traveling and fashion, the obit notes, adding, “Diamond’s unique style, charm and personality will be greatly missed.”
Rayanna Pardo, 26, was killed when struck by a car on east side of Los Angeles March 17. Security video shows her being followed by a group of people down Eastern Avenue, and her family wants police to determine if she ran into the street to get away from her harassers or even may have been pushed. She often faced such mistreatment, family members said. The motorist has been charged with driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
The TransLatin@ Coalition, along with Pardo’s friends and relatives, held a candlelight vigil Saturday to honor her life and memory. “Rayanna was such a beautiful young person who just wanted to live her life and be herself,” Bamby Salcedo, president of the TransLatin@ Coalition, said at the event.
“I can’t even sleep,” said Monica Pardo, Rayanna’s mother. “Every time I close my eyes, I just picture [her] getting hit by a car, and so I stay awake.”
Seeing the turnout of people to memorialize Rayanna did provide some comfort, said Adriana Rangel, her sister. “It brings peace of mind,” Rangel said. “Like, you know what? There’s people out there who do care, and that’s what my sister needed help with.”
“Everybody should just love everybody,” said Armando Rangel Jr., Rayanna’s brother. “At the end of the day that’s all we have, is one another.”
Jaida Peterson, 29, was shot to death April 4 in a room at the Quality Inn on the west side of Charlotte, N.C. Several days later, Charlotte-Mecklenburg County police arrested Dontarius Long, 21, and Joel Brewer, 33, in connection with the deaths of Peterson and another local trans woman, Remy Fennell, also at a hotel Both men are charged with murder and other offenses, including conspiracy to commit robbery with a dangerous weapon. The FBI, which helped local authorities in the investigation, is looking into hate-crime charges. There is evidence that the two suspects went to and left the hotels together, although it’s unclear how they were connected to the women.
Peterson was memorialized at a vigil in a Charlotte park April 9. “That was my first best friend and first person I could ever talk to,” Tawanda Barnett, who had known Peterson since childhood, said at the vigil. “I just don’t know how to get it together. … I just can’t believe something like that happened to my friend. She didn’t deserve that.” Peterson, Barnett recalled, was always smiling and making jokes.
“People just find it easier to kill us because socially, we’re at the bottom of the totem pole,” said Brittany Battle, another friend of Peterson’s. “No matter what her gender was, a human life was taken away. She has a family and friends and people who love her.”
Peterson’s mother, Mary, said simply, “My heart is breaking.”
Dominque Lucious, 26, was shot to death April 8 in Springfield, Mo. Charles Nelson, 28, was arrested the same day, and he is charged with second-degree murder and armed criminal action.
Lucious was killed in an apartment where she had spent the night, an occupant of the unit, identified only as S.D., told Springfield police. S.D. said that after Lucious woke him up Thursday morning to tell him she needed to freshen up to prepare for a visitor, he went back to sleep but was awakened again by gunshots. He saw Lucious lying on the couch and a man standing over her, and then the man went out to his car and drove away. S.D. took photos of the car. A neighbor identified in police reports as J.T. said he also heard the gunshots and saw the man drive away.
Police arrested Nelson that evening. They said he had sent text messages of a sexual nature to Lucious after meeting her online. He is being held without bond in the Greene County Jail.
The local community is mourning Lucious. “Trans women, particularly trans women of color, are disproportionately victims of violent crime,” said a Facebook post from the GLO Center, a Springfield LGBTQ+ community center. “This murder and the other senseless slaying of trans folks must be contextualized within the anti-trans rhetoric and actions taken by too many. It is 2021 and we must understand that trans rights are human rights. Rest In Peace, Dominique Lucious.”
Ciara Williams, Lucious’s cousin, told Springfield’s KYTV it took a while for the family to adapt to Lucious’s transition, but “of course they did.” Williams described her cousin as strong, brave, and big-hearted.
”She loved herself how she was, and that’s what made everybody adore her,” Williams added. “If she had her red lipstick and her red nails, she didn’t care what you had to say about her. And I loved that so much about her.”
Remy Fennell, 28, was found fatally shot April 15 at the Sleep Inn in Charlotte, N.C. Shortly afterward, Charlotte-Mecklenburg County police arrested Dontarius Long, 21, and Joel Brewer, 33, in connection with Fennell's death and that of another Charlotte trans woman, Jaida Peterson, also in a hotel. Both men are charged with murder and other offenses, including conspiracy to commit robbery with a dangerous weapon. The FBI, which helped local authorities in the investigation, is looking into hate-crime charges. There is evidence that the two suspects went to and left the hotels together, although it’s unclear how they were connected to the women.
Fennell, who was originally from Hampton, Va., had hoped to open a hair salon. “She was a beautiful soul and very talented with hair,” Shawnta Jones, Fennell's aunt, said at a memorial vigil in Hampton, according to TV station WVEC. Fennell's sisters plan to honor her by making the salon a reality.
Jones advised, “For every family out there, just love, no matter what your preference is, love each other.”
Tiara Banks, 24, was shot to death in Chicago April 24. Banks was sitting alone in her car that night in the West Pullman neighborhood on the city’s far south side when someone shot her several times, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Local TV station WGN reported on the crime but did not give Banks’s name. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
Chicago police are investigating whether Banks’s gender identity was a factor in her death, WGN reports. Another fatal shooting had occurred about half an hour earlier and less than a mile away from where Banks was killed.
Howard Brown Health, which serves a largely LGBTQ+ clientele, noted Banks’s death and identified her in a Friday Facebook post. The group also called out anti-trans violence in general.
“We are experiencing an epidemic of anti-trans violence, especially violence against Black transgender women, that has been at crisis levels for far too long in this country,” Howard Brown officials wrote. “We are seeing this epidemic of transgender hate reflected in the surge of anti-trans legislation introduced in states across the country, and we are feeling the effects of anti-trans hate in the loss of yet another member of the transgender community here in Chicago.”
Jahaira DeAlto Balenciaga, 42, an activist and a legend in the Boston ballroom scene, was stabbed to death April 23 in her home in the city’s Dorchester neighborhood. A house guest, Fatima Yasin, 28, was also killed in the attack.
Yasin’s husband, Marcus Chavis, 34, has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder. He and their two children, aged 7 and 8, were also staying in DeAlto’s home. She had offered “a safe space for them to get out of a bad situation,” Nolan Tesis, a friend of DeAlto’s, told Boston broadcaster WGBH. Police have not stated a motive for the crime but have said Chavis had a history of mental illness. He is being held without bail.
DeAlto was known as “a community advocate, anti-domestic violence activist, mother figure and local ballroom drag scene icon,” the station reports. “Jahaira was a legend for the trans community,” Tesis said. “She was a mother to so many that didn't have parents. I think that she took the most pride in her role as a grandmother and a mother, a chosen family for many individuals in the LGBTQ community.”
DeAlto worked for the Elizabeth Freeman Center, which assists survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. “We remember Jahaira as a colleague, activist and survivor who touched the lives of everyone around her with her passion, drive, humanity, humor, and fierce vision,” center officials tweeted. “Her impact on the community was profound and her presence will be missed by many.”
She was famous in Boston’s ballroom scene as a member of the House of Balenciaga. “The House of Balenciaga regretfully acknowledges the death/murder of our own Jahaira M. DeAlto, a community advocate and friend to many,” Harold Balenciaga wrote on Facebook. “Let us not forget her ongoing work against domestic abuse and continue to uplift her name and ensure her memory lives on in this ironic twist of fate.”
Natalia Smüt, a 24-year-old transgender woman and beloved drag entertainer in Northern California, was stabbed to death April 23, and a man who was in a relationship with her has been charged with murder.
Smüt, also known as Natalia Smüt Lopez, was stabbed multiple times at a home in Milpitas, Calif. The man who is charged with killing her, Elijah Cruz Segura, 22, of nearby Union City, led police to her and was arrested at the scene. The gravely wounded Smüt was taken to a hospital, where she died.
Cruz is charged with murder, plus a weapons enhancement for the use of a knife. He and Smüt had been dating for several months.
Smüt was a popular drag artist who performed frequently in San Jose and throughout the Bay Area. More than 100 people attended a vigil to honor her at San Jose City Hall.
“We lost a jewel in our community,” said Nathan Svoboda, president of the Project More Foundation, a local LGBTQ+ organization. He described Smüt as “captivating.”
Many at the vigil spoke about the epidemic of violence against trans Americans, especially Black and Latinx women. Smüt was Afro-Puerto Rican.
She was willing to speak about her life onstage, noted Sera Fernando, who met Smüt through Pride events. “Natalia is so brave, so courageous, for living in her authenticity,” Fernando said. “How is it possible that someone as brave and courageous as her — how do we not protect that?”
Iris Santos, 22, was shot to death while sitting at a picnic table outside a Chick-fil-A restaurant in Houston the evening of April 23. Someone just walked up to her and started shooting, according to local TV station KTRK. The attack was caught on surveillance video, and police have asked for help in identifying the suspect, who was seen fleeing into a neighboring apartment complex.
Santos’s family did not learn of her death for several days, having become concerned after not hearing from her. “She was a beautiful soul,” her mother, Maria Carreon, told KTRK. “She was a wonderful person. She [was] always trying to help people, and even when she doesn’t have nothing, she always gives.”
Months later, no arrest has been made, but Santos's loved ones are resolved to see justice done. "We're going to find this person. They are not going to get away with this," Santos's middle school theater teacher, Crystal Toussant, said at a memorial service in May. "She was determined. She knew what she wanted in life, and she was not ashamed of who she was."
Tiffany Thomas, 38, was shot and killed at a car wash in Dallas on April 24. She was deadnamed in some local reports, and her family said she was not transgender, although she appears to have been gender-nonconforming at the very least.
“Tiffany’s exact identity may never be known,” Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents reports. “The trans community welcomes and affirms her under the trans umbrella, acknowledging her death. There’s no shame for someone [assigned male at birth] to be wearing women’s clothing at a car wash. It certainly doesn’t mean she deserved to die. [Acceding] to the family’s erasure of Tiffany is not only cowardly but a grave disservice to other trans women in Dallas. It is a shameful way to behave.”
Keri Washington, 49, of Clearwater, Fla., was found dead May 1 in back of her apartment building, having died of head trauma. Her domestic partner, Arthur Benjamin Jr., also known as Hadeeka Shabazz, has been arrested and charged with first-degree murder. He had struck her head against a light pole, according to police records, which also say he confessed to killing Washington. A relative of Washington's said the relationship had often been violent.
Little information has surfaced about Washington’s life, but friends have paid tribute to her on social media. Several have said she went by the nickname “Bobo.” “Rest easy Keri Washington aka Bobo we love U,” read one Facebook post. “Bobo was the real deal slay queen,” said another.
Thomas Hardin of York, S.C., was killed May 2, and a suspect has been arrested — a former romantic partner of Hardin’s.
Hardin identified as female but continued to use the name Thomas and both male and female pronouns. Hardin’s family and friends became concerned when they hadn’t heard from her in a while, so they called police, who found her dead in a York home, local station WBTV reports. Police have not released a cause of death, but friends said Hardin was shot.
Chester County sheriff’s deputies took the suspect, Tyler Terry, 26, into custody after searching for him for a week. He is accused in at least four homicides in two states, including Hardin’s, according to WBTV. He had been homeless and living in a wooded area.
“He’s as violent of a person as I’ve ever encountered,” Chester County Sheriff Max Dorsey said.
Police had already arrested a suspected accomplice, Adrienne Simpson, who they said had driven the getaway car the night Hardin was killed. Simpson and Terry are also accused of killing Simpson’s husband, Eugene Simpson, who went missing May 2 and whose body was found May 19.
Terry and Adrienne Simpson had both clashed with Hardin. Chimere Hicks, a friend of Hardin’s, said Terry and Hardin had once been romantically involved and lived together, but their relationship came to a tumultuous end.
Hardin “had put Tyler out of his house months ago,” Hicks told WBTV. “He was giving him a place to stay because he didn’t have anywhere to live. And it just wasn’t working out, and so he put him out. [Terry] would always send [Hardin] threatening messages, calling him names, just doing a lot of things to him. I just kept telling Thomas it’s not safe. You know you come home at night. But he always said, no, I’m not scared of him.” Hicks also described a screaming match between Adrienne Simpson and Hardin over Hardin’s relationship with Terry.
Whispering Wind Bear Spirit, a 41-year-old nonbinary Indigenous person, was shot to death during an attempted robbery in York, Pa., May 3.
The evening of May 3, several men entered a home where Bear Spirit was staying with friends. Police said the men were trying to recover a pound of marijuana supposedly taken from them by a resident of the home.
Bear Spirit was shot once in the torso while trying to stop the robbery as a male resident of the house was being assaulted. Bear Spirit was taken to a nearby hospital for emergency surgery but died during the operation early in the morning of May 4.
Brothers Ryan Craig Strada, 20, and Nicholas Samuel Strada, 17, are charged with criminal homicide, robbery, conspiracy, and burglary in the case. For other men face charges of robbery, burglary and conspiracy: Oscar David Cook, 19; Michael Page Stewart, 22; Jaden Tyler Landis, 18; and Phillip Cornelius Sullivan, 18.
Bear Spirit was “Shawnee by birth and Potawatomi by relations,” according to their social media postings. Friends have shared memories.
“I loved her very much and will be receiving her ashes,” Tammy Johnston posted on Facebook. “I’ve picked out a beautiful Native American urn with a white bear spirit on it. I will be creating a memorial place for her at our cabin, appropriately named the bear house … . She will finally have a permanent and peaceful home with us.”
Sophie Vásquez, 36, was shot and killed in her apartment in Brookhaven, Ga., May 4.
Vásquez was shot multiple times; Brookhaven police found five shell casings and three bullets at the scene. There was some outcry from activists that police were downplaying the case, but Pedro Silva-Renteria, 18, of Norcross, Ga., was identified as a suspect about a week later and finally arrested in August in Grand Prairie, Texas. He is charged with murder.
Friends on social media have remembered Vásquez as “the kindest person on the planet” and someone who “lit up the whole room and made us laugh until we cried.”
A vigil for Henson was held shortly after her death. “I’m still emotional, but I’m trying to hold it together,” brother Michael Henson said at the event.
Friend Ashley Evang recalled Danny Henson as “just the embodiment of love,” adding, “We need to stop having all these Black men, Black women, Black trans people dying and no justice being found.”
Cadeem Green and Daqwan Sawyer, both 23-year-old Baltimore residents, were arrested in late May and charged with first-degree murder. In October, both rejected plea deals that would give them life sentences but with the possibility of parole. They are scheduled to be tried together in April.
Serenity Hollis, 24, was shot to death in Albany, Ga., May 8. She was shot once in the back early in the morning while walking down a street in Albany, according to local media, which misgendered and deadnamed her, as have police and prosecutors. The Albany Police Department released video on Facebook showing someone approaching her from behind, shooting her, and then fleeing.
Authorities suspect that her death was a hate crime. “I cannot go into the specifics of everything about what happened, but it was pretty apparent that was probably a motivation for the death,” Dougherty County District Attorney Greg Edwards told TV station WALB, still misgendering Hollis.
Shannen Osberry, one of Hollis’s sisters, told another station, WFXL, that she believed Hollis’s death was “either a hate crime or an act of revenge for some reason.” Without identifying Hollis as trans, she said someone may have been offended by the way her sibling carried herself.
Another sister, Sara Osberry, told WXFL Hollis has been attacked before, having been stabbed multiple times at an Albany nightclub, the House of Jazz, about two and a half years ago. Hollis’s mother, Robyn Osberry, also spoke to the station, saying, “The person that’s responsible has no idea what they took from us. … I absolutely want to see that justice is served.”
Poe Delwyn Black, a 21-year-old transgender man, was stabbed to death in California in May. Black’s death was not reported until a month later, when the Imperial County Sheriff’s Office put out a request for assistance with the investigation. The sheriff’s office used his former name in a Facebook post and described him as nonbinary, but Human Rights Campaign has identified him as a trans man, as have some media reports. He was also Indigenous — a member of the Wyandot Nation — two-spirit, and neuro-divergent, according to friends.
Black’s body was found May 11 in the Coachella Canal near Slab City, which is an unincorporated community near Niland, in the desert close to California’s border with Mexico. Workers from the Coachella Valley Water District originally thought he had drowned, but an autopsy several days later revealed stab wounds. Police are investigating his death as a homicide.
Slab City, an encampment on what’s left of a closed military base, is popular with artists and retirees. Black, who went by the nickname “Legion” in the area, arrived in Slab City in December or January from Nashville, a friend who went to high school with him in Tennessee told the Calexico Chronicle. “Poe went to an arts-based high school and was a very talented visual artist. He loved to paint and draw, and he also liked restoring things that he found at thrift stores,” the friend, whose name was not disclosed, told the paper via email.
Black had a history of activism, the friend said. “He was a strong activist, he was very involved in multiple Black Lives Matter protests and shed blood, sweat, and tears for the cause (in the most literal sense, this happened right before my eyes),” she said in her email to the Chronicle. “He was also very involved in LGBTQ activism. When he began staying out in the Slabs, he had the goal of trying to help increase access to resources/supplies for trans people living in the Slabs.”
The friend noted that Black “was recently diagnosed as autistic, and we had both had many conversations about being neuro-divergent. There was suspicion that he had Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome [a condition that affects the body’s connective tissue], and he used to miss lots of school towards the end of his time in high school due to chronic pain. Besides this, we don’t know why else it was happening to him.”
Cris Blehar, 65, was stabbed and shot to death May 19 in a residence in Flaherty, an unincorporated area of Meade County in north-central Kentucky. Police found her during a wellness check. Tyler Petty, 18, is charged with murder and will go on trial next June. Police said he may have worked for Blehar. Her obituary said she lived in Vine Grove, a nearby community.
Blehar was an Air Force veteran and former Continental Airlines employee who later worked as an Uber driver. Her cousin Mark Stephens contacted the Human Rights Campaign to identify her as trans, saying she should be “remembered, honored, and counted.”
“If there is one thing to know about Cris, it was that she fought fiercely to define her life as SHE wanted,” Stephens said in a statement to HRC. “Whether it was her military service, her 20+ year career in the airline industry, or her post retirement decision to buy a farm & start a family of her own. She lived life to the fullest and wanted everyone around her to live their best life as well. Growing up ‘different’ in Kentucky is certainly no easy task, something we shared in addition to being cousins, and she tackled it with the passion and zeal that only she could have. Her friends will always remember her infectious personality & her unmistakable laugh. She loved others passionately and fiercely, none more than her own son, Maverick.”
That son, Maverick Thompson, also remembered her fondly, saying, “Cris was an amazing mother and a wonderful person. She had so much love and brought a smile to many. She had a hilarious sense of humor that will live on through those that knew her. She will be sorely missed!”
“Cris was full of life and it is appalling that she was so violently taken from this Earth,” Tori Cooper, director of community engagement for HRC’s Transgender Justice Initiative, said in a press release. “It is comforting to know that she was well loved by friends and family, but her death highlights the need to combat gun violence and all of the factors that contribute to these killings.”
A transgender teenager in Oregon has died after having been kidnapped and shot, and a suspect is now charged with murder.
Oliver “Ollie” Taylor, a 17-year-old trans boy, was abducted May 12 in the town of Gervais, The Oregonian reports. Police say that Kenneth William Peden III, 20, drove away in a pickup truck with Taylor, leading to a chase by law enforcement. Police pursued Peden through another town, Silverton, and into the country, and exchanged gunshots with him.
When Peden finally gave himself up, police found Taylor in the truck’s front passenger seat, and the youth had suffered “a life-threatening gunshot wound,” according to The Oregonian. The bullet that struck him had not been fired by the officers pursuing the vehicle, police said. Taylor was taken to Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland, where he died last Wednesday.
Taylor was involved in several activities at Gervais High School, including the track team and Future Farmers of America. His family remembered him on social media as “an amazing child with a quirky sense of humor, who impacted so many people.”
Peden was charged Thursday with murder, the Marion County District Attorney’s Office announced. It’s one of nine charges against him, including five counts of attempted murder. Arik Reed, 22, was shot in the abdomen while trying to prevent the abduction, and he is now recovering.
Taylor is at least the 26th trans, nonbinary, or gender-nonconforming person to die by violence in the U.S. this year. The nation saw a record number of such deaths reported, 44, in 2020, and 2021 is on track to exceed that. The actual number for any year is likely larger, given that many victims are misgendered by media and police, or their deaths not reported at all.
“We continue to receive reports of transgender and nonbinary people who have been killed so far this year, and the level of violence that we’re seeing is horrible and unacceptable,” said a statement from Tori Cooper, the Human Rights Campaign’s director of community engagement for its Transgender Justice Initiative. “Oliver was just at the beginning of his life, a life that never should have been cut short. This is a tragic loss for Oliver’s friends, family and community. This violence must cease.”
Tierramarie Lewis was shot to death in Cleveland June 12. Lewis was found in a residential neighborhood when police responded to a report of gunfire. She had been shot in the chest. Officers attempted to revive her, as they detected a faint pulse, but she died at a hospital shortly afterward.
A suspect has been arrested. Duane Lunsford, 25, of Cleveland, has been charged with aggravated murder and felonious assault, and has pleaded not guilty.
Lewis had been experiencing homelessness and had received assistance from the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland. She had moved to Cleveland last year from Columbus, and was trying to “break away from sex work and to recover from addiction,” The Buckeye Flame reports.
She had stayed in various shelters but experienced conflicts at some and blatant transphobia in at least one, with a security guard using the T word and referring to her with male pronouns.
Also, “Lewis was aware that she had maladaptive behaviors and she was working on them,” according to the Flame. “Each time she was dismissed from a shelter, she was resilient.”
Lewis was remembered fondly by people connected with the Cleveland center’s Trans Wellness program, which operates a support group and offers referrals to resources. “I just really respected her for the fact that she walked through so much,” Eliana Turan, director of development at the center, told the Flame. “And she still shined such a light. She only gave kindness.”
“She commanded attention,” recalled Tamika Jones, a member of the Trans Wellness group. “She was tall, like me, and she was a spirited girl. … One day she would have purple hair, one day pink hair, and always an outfit to go with those colors.”
EJ Boykin, who also went by the name Novaa Watson, has died of a gunshot wound.
Boykin, 23, was shot June 14 in Lynchburg, Va. He was found in the parking lot of a Family Dollar store about 6 p.m. that day and was taken to a local hospital, where he died soon afterward, Lynchburg paper The News & Advance reports.
Police are investigating Boykin’s death as a homicide, and they are still searching for a suspect. They said they do not believe the shooting was a hate crime and think it may have been related to a domestic dispute. A child was at the scene and was not harmed.
Torri Chippe, a longtime friend of Boykin’s, told the paper that “he was loved and liked by everyone. He was one of those people that was just good vibes and energy.”
Boykin’s mother, Latoya Watson, has been leading weekly walks while displaying photos of Boykin in hopes of finding someone with information that will lead to an arrest in the case.
Rubi Dominguez was killed in a hit-and-run accident July 16 in Arlington, Texas. Her death and her trans identity were not widely reported until months later, as local media deadnamed and misgendered her. Her sister Monica described Doninguez as “a happy, social, humorous person” who “made people laugh.”
Taya Ashton was found shot to death July 17 in her apartment in Suitland, Md., a suburb of Washington, D.C.
Prince George’s County police found Ashton shortly before 10 p.m., the Washington Blade reports. She had suffered a single gunshot wound and was pronounced dead at the scene. She was 20 years old.
D.C. trans advocate Earline Budd released a statement about Ashton’s death, saying, “Today is a somber and sad day for the Transgender Community as we remember yet another life so precious taken away.”
She mentioned the fatal shootings of two other trans women in Prince George’s County, Ashanti Carmon and Zoe Spears, both in 2019. Gerardo Thomas, 34, of Baltimore, has been charged with first-degree murder in Spears’s death and awaits trial, while no arrest has been made in Carmon’s death.
“Transgender individuals are experiencing violence locally and around the country almost every day,” Budd said in her statement. “D.C. and P.G. County are only separated by a line, and we must come together as one community to address this violence. … There should be no rest in the LGBTQ community when something as tragic as this happens. Our prayers go out to the family of Taya.” More than 200 people attended a vigil in Ashton's memory.
Two days after Ashton's death, an arrest was made. DeAllen Davonta Price, 27, of District Heights, Md., is charged with first-degree and second-degree murder, among other crimes. He had been arrested by Arlington County, Va., police on an unrelated robbery charge as he was trying to escape through a train tunnel. Price had been in a sexual relationship with Ashton, according to charging documents.
Shai Vanderpump, a 23-year-old activist in New Jersey, was shot to death July 30 in the capital city of Trenton.
About 4:40 a.m., police responded to a report of a shooting at a residence, The Trentonian reports. They found Vanderpump, who had been shot in the face. She was taken to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead shortly afterward.
The following night, police arrested Daniel L. Smith, 36, during a traffic stop. He is now charged with murder and several weapons violations.
Smith was the person who reported Vanderpump’s shooting to police, according to an affidavit obtained by The Trentonian. He said someone had roused him out of bed and there had been a shooting at the house. Witnesses placed him at the house, and security video showed him running through the parking lot at a YMCA and washing his hands in a puddle.
Police and prosecutors have not stated a motive for the crime, but they are investigating whether it was bias-related. She may have been killed while trying to protect another person, notes a crowdfunding page where money is being raised to cover her burial expenses.
Vanderpump was renowned “as a fierce LGBTQ advocate” in Trenton and across New Jersey, says a Facebook post from Garden State Equality, a statewide LGBTQ+ rights group. She is the 32nd trans, nonbinary, or gender-nonconforming person known to have died by violence in the U.S. this year. 2021 is on track to surpass 2020’s record of 44 such deaths.
“The loss of Shai Vanderpump is devastating,” said a statement from Tori Cooper, director of community engagement for the Human Rights Campaign’s Transgender Justice Initiative. “Shai was a well-known LGBTQ advocate in New Jersey, and her loss will be felt by her friends, family and local community, as well as the wider LGBTQ community. Her life should never have been taken. Too many transgender and gender-nonconforming lives have already been lost. We need everyone, in every state, city and community, to help bring an end to this senseless violence and stigma that so often impacts Black trans women.”
A woman known as Miss CoCo, 44, was shot to death August 7 at a homeless encampment in downtown Dallas.
Miss CoCo was often seen in encampment areas with others who were experiencing homelessness, the organization Nu Trans Movement noted in a Facebook post. The post described her as “a well-known small girl with a big, bubbly personality” who “was a happy person & proud to be living her truth.”
Family and friends have given her full name as CoCo Chanel Wortham, and she was originally from Kansas City, Kan., the Dallas Voice reports. Dymond Rocke, a friend who traveled from Kansas to Dallas for a memorial service, described her as “a giving and kind person who never said no to anyone” and said she was a master cosmetologist.
The Dallas Police Homicide Unit is investigating her death as a hate crime unless evidence to the contrary emerges.
Johnson worked as a makeup artist under the name Titanizer Mua, according to her social media pages.
“It is heartbreaking to witness another Black trans woman stolen from us by transphobia and gun violence,” said a statement from Tori Cooper, director of community engagement for the Human Rights Campaign’s Transgender Justice Initiative. “We are quickly approaching last year’s record total of fatalities among transgender and gender-nonconforming people. Johnson’s tragic death highlights yet again the need for attention and resources to combat this epidemic of violence.”
The National Black Justice Coalition also issued a statement. “My heart breaks hearing the news about Pooh Johnson,” said Victoria Kirby York, deputy executive director. “This epidemic of violence continues to take life after life and each senseless loss is devastating. The trans and nonbinary community needs support in this moment and they need protection. Lawmakers must introduce and pass legislation that will prioritize the safety of trans and gender-nonconforming people. Law enforcement must work to hold those responsible for these murders accountable. Community members must put pressure on lawmakers and law enforcement to ensure the work gets done. We all must continue to fight back against the transphobia and bias that contributes to the violence we see.”
Seattle resident Zoella Martinez was found fatally shot in an alley September 1.
Martinez, 20, had gone the night before to meet Jacaree Rashad Hardy in an attempt to recover the $1,100 she believed he had fraudulently withdrawn from her bank account, The Seattle Times reports. She had arranged for a friend to stay nearby when she met Hardy in a parking lot. When the friend arrived, she saw Martinez sitting in a car with another person at the wheel. The driver sped off, and when Martinez didn’t return to the lot to get her own car, the friend called the King County Sheriff’s Office to report Martinez missing.
The morning of September 1, Seattle city police found Martinez’s body in an alley next to a fire station, with five gunshot wounds and “burns consistent with being shot at close range,” according to the Times. She had no identification on her, but communications between the city and county officers, with the help of security footage that showed the parking lot meeting, identified her as Martinez. The footage showed flashes of light that appeared to be a handgun firing.
Hardy remained at large for more than a month, but with information from his Facebook profile, which Martinez had sent to her friend before the meeting, helped authorities track him down. Officers from the U.S. Marshals Service arrested him October 6 at an apartment building in Renton, a Seattle suburb.
He is charged with second-degree murder and first-degree unlawful possession of a firearm. Police have impounded his vehicle, which contained “five .40-caliber shell casings, a fired bullet, and blood on the front passenger seat and on the exterior of the front passenger door,” the Times notes. He appeared in King County court October 21 and pleaded not guilty on all counts.
Martinez, who was known by the nicknames Zo Zo or Zoey, was not identified as trans until mid-October. “While no news reports revealed that she was a trans woman, we have been given permission by her family to reveal this,” Diversity Alliance of the Puget Sound posted on Facebook. “They proudly stood by their daughter through her transition and will continue to do so.”
“The news of trans homicide is routinely delayed, which underscores the heartbreaking reality that there will always be more victims than we know,” the Transgender Law Center noted on its Facebook page.
“Zoey’s social media feeds are filled with joy, curiosity, and generosity,” Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents reports. “Her birthday this past spring was tied to a fundraiser. She repeatedly encouraged her mother in her struggle with COVID-19. Her death is felt so deeply by her family and friends, it is just heartbreaking. They loved her so much. It was her family that released information that she was a young trans woman.”
Disaya Monaee was shot to death September 6 at a motel in Dolton, Ill., a suburb of Chicago.
Some of the information about her is conflicting. The National Black Justice Coalition gives her name as Disaya Monaee Smith, while the Human Rights Campaign lists her as simply Disaya Monaee. The website for the Chicago-based Higgins Family Funeral Home lists a D'isaya Smith who died September 6 and gives her age as 27, while HRC lists her as 32. Her death was first reported by Beverly Ross on Instagram.
Chicago TV station WMAQ, which spoke to her mother, Latrina Banks, has her name as D'isaya Monaee Smith and her age as 27. Banks said her daughter was at the motel with a couple of women friends but was tired and decided to stay in the room while the others went out. When they returned, she was dead.
Banks believes her daughter fought the assailant. “At the hotel room door you can tell the struggle was at the door it was not inside the hotel room,” Banks told the station. “There’s blood, there’s like a trail of blood at the entrance way right there from the hallway area.”
Banks said Disaya, who transitioned upon leaving high school, was happy, outgoing, and well loved. “She loved to dress, she loved to party, she loved to cook, she loved to do her hair, she loved to take care of people,” she said. “She’s been like that ever since she was little.”
Banks later spoke to Block Club Chicago about her daughter. “She was always so caring and giving, even though she didn’t have much of her own,” Banks said. “I used to have to tell her all the time when she was little that she can’t keep taking care of everybody, but she just couldn’t stop.”
“She used to explain to me that a lot of the trans girls she hung out with — they didn’t have family because their families disowned them,” Banks added. “So she made sure I fed her friends, and she’d take them in like family.”
Brianna Ulmer, also known as Brianna Hamilton, was shot to death in Chicago September 17.
She was found in an alley early that morning with a gunshot wound to the head and was pronounced dead at a local hospital, according to Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents, going off a report from Chicago TV station WGN that misgendered her. She was 25.
“Her social media feed is filled with affirmative self-love content as well as observations on culture, fashion, and society. ... Her vibrancy is palpable,” Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents reported. “And that makes her death from a gunshot wound to the head in the early morning on the Chicago sidewalk so … numbing.”
Her mother, Ronda Ulmer, has set up a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for funeral expenses. “I know Brianna was loved by many,” she wrote, calling her daughter an “amazing person” and ending with “#TRANSLIVESMATTER.”
Brave Space Alliance, a Black-run, trans-run Chicago community center, mourned her on Facebook, writing “Rest in power my luv.” Tori Cooper of the Human Rights Campaign issued a statement: “Black trans lives matter, and we need urgent action to end this epidemic of violence.”
Janiece Lewis, Brianna's older sister, remembered her fondly in an interview with Block Club Chicago. “Wherever she went, if I wanted to go, she’d take me with her,” Lewis said. “She was my first best friend.”
“Brianna was fun to be around and was the life of the party,” friend Tariyah Walton told the publication. “She was always full of life and was honest, loyal, and authentic. You don’t meet people as special as her every day.”
Geri Judd was found shot to death at her apartment in Bossier City, La., September 28. Her trans identity was acknowledged several months later, with friends telling local media about her transition and her activism. She often attended marches for Transgender Day of Remembrance and other events.
Kièr Solomon, 21, was found fatally shot in her car at an apartment complex in Arlington, Texas, September 30.
Solomon, who was also known as Kiér Laprí Kartier, was in the driver’s seat with the door open and the engine running when another motorist spotted her, the Dallas-Fort Worth CBS affiliate reports. She was taken to the emergency room of a local hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
Solomon had no known connection to the Madrid Apartments, the complex where she was found. She lived with her grandmother in Dallas, and she sometimes visited friends at a different complex in Arlington.
She was between jobs and was looking for employment, friends and family told the station. Police are still searching for a suspect, and they said they don’t believe the perpetrator was motivated by Solomon’s gender identity.
Friends and relatives are remembering her fondly. “Right now I am just trying to understand … and figure out why,” her mother, Arnitra Robinson, told another local TV station, KDFW. “Kier was very loved and loved a lot of people. There was no reason for this to have happened.”
Friend Kenya Kartier added, “First time seeing her, I was like, she’s so beautiful. She was fresh in her transition. I wanted to be her trans mother. I wanted to teach her.”
Another friend, identified only as Josh, told KDFW they had been making dinner together before she went to Arlington. “Something in my soul told me something wasn’t right,” Josh said.
Solomon is at least the fifth trans person killed in Texas this year; the state has often been the site of fatal violence against the community. “Since I moved to Dallas three years ago to the date tomorrow, this is the eighth transgender woman of color who has been shot,” Naomi Green, a fellow with the Human Rights Campaign’s Activate program, said in a press release. “The seven who were killed were all Black and the Latina survived. I didn’t know that when I moved here I was moving to a place where being trans means being more deserving to die. That a trans life was not equivalent to any other life and was less deserving. That is the mentality of many outside our LGBTQ+ community here and it has to stop. We need the help of others to stop the senseless violence and killing of trans people in this city. My heart goes out to this lovely trans sister who lost her life at only 21 and all those who loved and knew her.”
Mel Groves, 25, died October 11 in Jackson, Miss., after having been shot multiple times.
Groves drove himself to Merit Health Hospital in Jackson and collapsed while getting out of his vehicle, Jackson’s Clarion Ledger reports. He was transferred to the University of Mississippi Medical Center, where he died. The Jackson Police Department is investigating his death as a homicide, and is still searching for suspects and trying to determine a motive.
“Groves was a farmer for the Knights and Orchids Society’s garden program and a plant-soil scientist who loved agriculture and animals,” notes a press release from the National Black Justice Coalition.
“The violence this year seems never-ending, and I am devastated each time I hear of another trans sibling lost,” Victoria Kirby York, deputy executive director of the NBJC, said in the release. “What is even more heartbreaking is the fact Mel expressed fear for his life because he was trans living in Jackson. Trans people should not have to fear violence simply because of their identity, but that is our country’s current reality. This has to do with the prevalence of transphobia in our daily lives and the inaction around the epidemic of violence against the trans community.
“How many times do advocates have to demand legislation that protects the trans community before lawmakers introduce and pass laws that do so? How many times must we point out that misgendering and deadnaming in police reports and news coverage damages the investigations? How many times must we highlight the need for training and action from public safety officials addressing and preventing the violence against the trans community? We cannot continue the way we are going. The time for action is now before even more lives are lost.”
Groves was studying plant and soil science at Alcorn State University in Lorman, Miss. “He cared about everything, especially plants,” his friend Que Bell told NBC News. Groves was a brilliant student, Bell said, but had been rejected by his family and sometimes experienced homelessness. “Imagine how much he could have contributed to technology, to science, to agriculture if he had been stable and if he actually had a chance,” Bell added. “He’ll never get an opportunity.”
The Knights and Orchids Society is offering a reward for information that will help in the investigation.
Royal Poetical Starz, 26, was shot to death October 2 in Miami Gardens, Fla. Starz, who lived in nearby Pompano Beach, was shot inside her Hummer in a residential area of Miami Gardens, South Florida Gay News reports. Police, whose report misgendered and deadnamed her, have released few details, but her friend Sandy T. Fox told the publication she was shot 20 times, including in the face. The crime occurred about 11:30 a.m.
“It shows to me a very high level of premeditation and anger,” Fox said.
Fox, a family law attorney, was outraged at the deadnaming and misgendering. “Let me tell you the most disgusting part of all — I changed his name legally,” he said. “I changed her name because she’s trans to Royal Poetical Starz, which is what Facebook and Instagram says. That’s also what she’s recognized as at the medical examiner’s office. But it appears they aren’t even recognizing her as trans.”
Starz, who was widowed two years ago, was struggling financially, Fox said. She worked as a masseuse and had recently received a business degree from a vocational school. She was also a singer.
She was “always the life of the party,” he said. “Whenever we walked on Wilton Drive to the next bar, everyone loved how Poetical was dressed. They would always comment, ‘Girl, I love that hair.’ Or ‘Girl, I love those nails.’” Fox and his then-boyfriend, Uvaldo Mencia, met Starz on a cruise three years ago and had remained close to her.
Sue Kerr, a reporter with Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents, said the fact that the crime occurred in the daytime shows it was “brazen.”
“I have noticed that these are not all happening in the middle of the night, the dark of the night, that sort of noir perspective of how these things happen,” she told South Florida Gay News. “It’s a little shocking how brazen and public some of these murders have taken place.
“I wonder if that is due to the increasing harassing and drama inflicted on the trans community. It has become more acceptable to be transphobic, especially in regard to Black trans women. That’s terrifying.”
Tori Cooper, director of community engagement for the Human Rights Campaign’s Transgender Justice Initiative, commented the case as well. “Royal Starz was shot in broad daylight in her own car,” Cooper said in a press release. “She changed her name legally, but the police still misgendered her. Too often, transgender people are denied basic humanity even in death. Stories like these are an indictment of our society’s continued devaluation of Black trans lives. Royal deserved to live and pursue her dreams, but she became yet another victim of the horrific epidemic of violence against trans and nonbinary people.”
Keeva Scatter, 34, was shot to death in Baton Rouge, La., October 15. Her body was found just a block away from her home. Local media deadnamed and misgendered her at the time. Little other information is available.
Jessi Hart, a 42-year-old transgender woman who had experienced poverty and housing insecurity, was found dead in Oregon on October 17. Authorities suspect foul play, which would make her at least the 43rd trans, nonbinary, or gender-nonconforming person to die by violence in the U.S. this year.
Hart’s body was found in a wooded area near Banks, a small town 25 miles west of Portland, Willamette Week reports. Detectives think she died about two weeks earlier.
Hart had been featured in a Willamette Week story in June about Portland residents living in motels “as a last resort before homelessness,” the paper notes. She had been experiencing housing insecurity since her transition in 2016. She said she had lost her construction business and her home, and had become estranged from most of her family due to the transition.
She and her 13-year-old son, Caleb, “had bounced from a women’s shelter and a friend’s apartment into motels,” according to Willamette Week. She also had an adult daughter who lived in another part of Oregon.
She lost her subsidized motel room shortly after the story was published, lived in her car for a time while Caleb stayed with a friend, and eventually got another motel room with the help of a nonprofit organization. She and Caleb had a close and supportive relationship.
Hart had a girlfriend, Audrey Savage, who told the paper, “I’ll miss everything about her. She was intelligent and thoughtful and caring, and I loved her quirks. The whole shorts with the knee-high socks added to the stretch pants thing. She also took almost all my hats. When they found her, they found her in my camouflage hat.”
“Housing insecurity often places so many from our community in dangerous and concerning situations,” Tori Cooper, director of community engagement for the Human Rights Campaign’s Transgender Justice Initiative, said in a press release. “Had Jessi Hart had access to secure housing, it is possible that she would still be with us today. As transgender people, we often face so many challenges and uncertainties, including housing and employment security, and, sadly, these situations can lead to greatly unfortunate outcomes. My heart and that of the community goes out to her son, Caleb.”
Jo Acker, 26, was working as a security guard was killed when a gunman opened fire at the Boise Towne Square Mall in Idaho October 25, and her family members say she took actions that undoubtedly saved many lives there.
She confronted the shooter on the first floor of the mall near a department store, according to a police report. The gunman, now identified as Jacob Bergquist, 27, shot Acker, and she died at the scene. Another person at the mall, Roberto Padilla Arguelles, 49, was killed, and at least four people were injured. Bergquist was taken into custody Monday and died the next day; police said there had been an “exchange of gunfire” with him.
Acker’s partner and siblings say she died a hero; she ran toward Bergquist, hoping to stop him. “She was confronting the suspect. She was helping people be safe and get out of the way and they shot at her,” Ray Dawn, Acker’s partner of nearly three years, told the Idaho Statesman. “I was told she was helping people and saving them. ... I know she would have wanted to make everyone else safe. She would have been the first one to go down to confront somebody.”
“Confronting someone whom she viewed to be a threat to others or a bully was entirely within her character even prior to enlisting,” Tiffany Luna, Acker’s oldest sister, told Colorado Springs TV station KKTV. Acker, who had lived for a time in in Colorado Springs, served in the U.S. Army as a forward artillery observer and a paratrooper. “We have had people messaging us to tell us how she helped them, how she saved them, and we are so thankful for the love and support we are receiving,” Luna added.
In the Statesman interview, Dawn noted that Acker “hated bullies more than anything else” and added, “She would see anybody in trouble, no matter how uncomfortable or awkward it would be, she would stop whatever she was doing to make sure that the other person is safe.”
Acker had a 3-year-old daughter, Everay. The family has set up a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for Everay’s support. (Editor's note: The GoFundMe misgenders Acker.)
Tori Cooper, director of community engagement for the Human Rights Campaign’s Transgender Justice Initiative, commented both on the epidemic of violence against trans people and the many tragedies associated with guns. “Losing yet another sister in the transgender community to such violent means is disheartening, and yet infuriating,” Cooper said in a press release. “The senseless violence against our community is alarming, but what is also alarming is the lack of comprehensive gun control legislation that puts all communities in immediate danger. If we are to draw attention to the frightening rate of anti-trans fatal violence, we also need to draw attention to the dire need for gun control laws in this country that will ultimately not only keep our transgender community safer, but all communities safer.”
Rikkey Outumuro, 39, a beloved transgender activist and drag performer, was found dead on a street in Centralia, Wash., October 31. She had been shot five times in the chest. She was known for performing as Tru Starlet and had been crowned the first Miss Gay Lewis County in 2008.
Cristopher Allen Gaudreau, 28, of Centralia, was arrested the same day and is charged with first-degree murder and domestic violence; the two were in a relationship and had been seen arguing the night before.
Outumuro is being remembered fondly. One of her recent performances was at Capital City Pride in Olympia in June. “It was a blessing to have her brighten up our stage,” Capital City Pride posted on Facebook, noting in another post that she was “a beloved community member.”
“Rikkey was many things,” Luis Nok Otumuro, her uncle, posted on Facebook. “Daughter. Sister. Niece. Cousin. Mom. Advocate. Defender. Friend. And proudly trans. Rikkey will be missed greatly by many. I will miss you Rikkey.”
Anna Schlecht, former chair of Capital City Pride, wrote, “I’ve known her since she was little. She was best friends with my then-girlfriend’s daughter. They would go to the neighborhood food co-op and play ‘dress up drag queen’ near the free box to the delight of co-op members, often doing little drag shows.”
“Tragically, interpersonal violence accounts for a significant number of fatalities against transgender and gender non-conforming people,” notes a Human Rights Campaign press release. “In 2020, approximately seven in ten transgender and gender non-conforming people killed as a result of fatal violence were killed by an acquaintance, friend, family member or intimate partner. Unfortunately, the relationship of the victim to the killer is still unknown for close to one-third (30%) of all known cases. This means that anywhere from 44% to 74% of victims since 2013 were violently killed by someone they knew, including intimate partners, family members, friends, peers and acquaintances.”
Jenny De Leon, 25, was found dead outside of a home in Tampa, Fla., November 2.
“Jenny was an enigmatic, bright soul with enough energy to fill any room,” PFLAG Tampa wrote on Facebook. The group said that she had come out and transitioned while attending PFLAG Tampa meetings.
Her family has organized a fundraiser to help with funeral costs. De Leon’s sister said she was “a wonderful person with a beautiful soul who touched the lives of those around her. We are all devastated by this deep heartfelt loss.”
“This is a national epidemic — and Black and Latinx trans women continue to be disproportionately impacted by these fatal acts of violence,” Equality Florida wrote on Twitter. “Our hearts are with Jenny’s family, friends, and the community that loved and knew her.”
Authorities are asking anyone with information about De Leon’s death to contact Crime Stoppers of Tampa Bay at (800) 873-TIPS.
De Leon’s death is only the latest killing of a trans woman in Florida this year. Royal Poetical Starz was killed in October in Miami Gardens, Alexus Braxton was killed in Miami in February, and Keri Washington was killed in May in Clearwater.
Marquiisha Lawrence, 28, was shot to death November 4 in Greenville, S.C.
Lawrence was found dead in her home by family members. It seems she had been in an altercation with one or more people, according to the coroner’s office. The office declared Lawrence's death a homicide. The Greenville County sheriff’s office is investigating.
“Marquiisha ‘Quii’ Lawrence, like so many who have gone before her, fell victim to a senseless murder. Quii was a young trans woman, at the beginning of this game called life, as WE know it in the trans community,” said Eboni Sinclaire, Lawrence’s trans mother, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
Sinclaire said that Lawrence was a freethinker who was loved by many.
“She will forever be remembered by her infectious smile and her heart of gold. Her favorite thing to do was to cook because she felt it filled the belly and fed the heart,” Sinclaire said. “One of our last conversations she said to me, ‘I've not always been the best I could be, but thank you for caring enough to still be here for me.'"
Sinclaire said Lawrence may have been killed for “accepting who she was and living her truth.”
Danyale Johnson, 35, was shot to death in Memphis, Tenn., November 6. The shooting took place in the parking lot of a motel, the Bellevue Inn, about 1 a.m., according to Memphis’s Fox affiliate, which misgendered Johnson. A local transgender activist group, We Care TN, has confirmed she was trans.
Memphis police, also misgendering Johnson, tweeted that the shooter was “an unknown male” who had argued with the victim. The gunman stole her car and drove away from the scene. Johnson was taken to a local hospital but did not survive.
Johnson was a graduate of Booker T. Washington High School in Memphis and had attended the University of Memphis, reports Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents, which monitors anti-trans violence. Her mother has held vigils in her memory and has organized a crowdfunding campaign for funeral expenses. Johnson’s two younger brothers have died in the past year as well, according to the site.
“Rest in power, Danyale,” Sue Kerr wrote on the site. “Your entrepreneurial spirit, your zest for life, and your lovely spirit will be missed. Your family has endured so many tragedies and there is little comfort to be found except to honor those bonds. You deserved many more years to grow, prosper, and achieve. I am sorry we failed to keep you safe.”
Angel Naira, 36, was shot to death in her apartment in Aliquippa, Pa., November 11. Naira was deadnamed and misgendered by local media, which have reported that state police have released little information on her death; it has been ruled a homicide. Friends are raising the possibility that it was a hate crime.
Naira was a home health aide and a graduate of cosmetology school, according to a GoFundMe page raising money for funeral expenses. On the page, her brother Martell Murray, referring to Naira as “B,” wrote that she “was a great person and loved everyone. She had a big heart and would do anything for her family and friends.”
“What a Beautiful soul so outgoing and you definitely embraced your inner self taught me a lot about loving your self and never being afraid to be you no matter what anyone says ... you were fearless and fabulous baby one of the best to do it and always had a smile on your face,” friend Bria Jones wrote on Facebook. Another friend, Linda Slade, wrote, “Fly high my dear friend Angel Naira Ima gonna miss u so much you were such a beautiful person with a very big heart.”
“It is devastating but unsurprising that we are remembering yet another bright soul during Trans Week of Awareness and just days before Trans Day of Remembrance,” Tori Cooper, director of community engagement for the Human Rights Campaign’s Transgender Justice Initiative, said in a press release. “The pace of deaths this year has been unrelenting. We’ve already recorded more cases this year than during the entirety of 2020. We must all commit not only to remembering those who have been taken from us but to dismantling transphobia and improving the material conditions of trans and nonbinary people to end this epidemic of violence.”
Nikai David was shot to death December 3 in Oakland, Calif. David, 33, who lived in nearby Hayward, was found on a street in west Oakland about 4 a.m. with a gunshot wound to the head, Bay Area TV station KTVU reports. She died at the scene.
She “was a model and aspiring social media influencer who dreamed of opening her own clothing boutique,” notes a Human Rights Campaign press release.
“I was really devastated when I found out, when I got the news,” her friend Ashlee Banks told KTVU. Banks, who described David as a fun-loving, considerate person, said there was likely “some type of physical altercation” that led to the shooting. “To the people who harmed her, I just hope that justice is served,” she added.
Oakland police said there is no evidence so far that this was a hate crime, but others have commented on the general devaluation of trans lives. “In general, people are ready to attack transgender people, just because they’re transgender,” Joe Hawkins, cofounder and CEO of the Oakland LGBTQ Community Center, told the station. The center is planning a memorial service and will post the information on its Facebook and Instagram pages.
“Learning about Nikai David’s death is disheartening and alarming,” Tori Cooper, HRC’s director of community engagement for its Transgender Justice Initiative, said in the release. “In the year that we’ve marked as the deadliest year on record for our community, we continue to see a frightening rate of fatal violence against transgender and gender-nonconforming people. We must all continue to demand that the violence cease. David was a young person with so much life ahead of her. For her future to have been violently taken away from her serves as a reminder that we remain with so much work ahead of us to ensure a safe and loving world for all.”
Martina Caldera, 38, was found dead December 6 near a highway overpass in Channelview, Texas, a suburb of Houston. Investigators with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office initially believed she was hit by a car, but they then discovered she had been shot several times. Friends and relatives said she worked two full-time jobs, loved music, and enjoyed time with her family.
Za’niyah Williams, 21, died after a hit-and-run car crash in Houston December 20. “You were loved and will always be a part of me!” a cousin wrote on social media. “Fly high you beautiful butterfly.” A friend posted that Williams was “a very sweet and smart young lady and always ripped the runway when she dressed up.”
Ke’Yahonna Stone was shot in a nightclub parking lot in Indianapolis in the early hours of December 26 and died December 28 after being taken off life support.
Stone, 32, attempted to break up a fight when someone pulled out a gun and began shooting, hitting her in the head, her family told local TV station WISH.
"Yaya was one of the realest, most loyal people I have ever met," said longtime friend Dometreece (Meechee) Lang. "She seemed tough on the outside but inside she was so sweet and had a good heart."
I n white trans woman Nikki Turietta, 31, was found shot to death in her home in Albuquerque, N.M., December 31. She had been shot in the head.
Jen Struck, Turietta’s aunt, described her as “a character” and “just completely free spirit.” Turietta had grown up in Albuquerque and had returned there a few years ago after traveling all over the U.S. and internationally. Turietta had just celebrated the holidays with her family.