At a Los Angeles protest on Tuesday, Jennifer Thompson held a sign with a list of 20 names of “transgender womyn killed in 2015.”
One speaker at the rally said there had been 19 murders. Another said 17 trans women have been killed this year.
The truth is that no one has an accurate count of how many transgender people have been murdered this year. But concerned advocates say they have an epidemic on their hands—one that appears to be getting worse, and disproportionately affecting women of color. Complicating their efforts to tackle the crisis, police and the media face unique challenges in bringing justice for these victims and their families.
A Fusion analysis found at least 20 transgender women who have been killed this year; nine of those investigations have led to murder charges. For comparison, there were 14 trans women murdered on record last year, according to the New York City Anti-Violence Project (AVP), which began to collect data on attacks against trans people two decades ago. In 2013, the group found, there were at least 12 hate-motivated homicides of transgender women, and they were all people of color.
Below is a list of 20 transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals who have been killed this year, along with the status of each investigation. Many of the investigations are ongoing, and motives are still unclear. Out of the 20 cases, 9 suspects have been charged with murder.
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Tamara Dominguez, 36
Kansas City, Missouri
August 15, 2015
Investigation status: No charges filed. Witnesses say Dominguez was intentionally struck by an SUV and run over three times. Dominguez was transported to an area hospital where she later died, according to North East News.
Elisha Walker, 20
Johnston County, North Carolina
Remains found on August 13, 2015
Investigation status: Charges filed. Walker had been missing since October 23, 2014. Her car was found burned and abandoned in a field shortly after. This week Walker’s remains were found buried in a shallow grave. A man has been charged with murder and felony vehicle theft.
Kandis Capri, 35
August 11, 2015
Investigation status: No charges filed. Capri was found by a Phoenix police officer with a gunshot wound. “The motive for the shooting at this point is unclear, however the victim's vehicle was towed from the complex just a few minutes prior to the shooting call. Witnesses reported seeing a black male leaving the area on foot,” Sergeant Trent Crump of the Phoenix Police Department said in an email.
Amber MonRoe, 20
August 8, 2015
Investigation status: No charges filed. Monroe was shot near Palmer Park and died at a local hospital shortly after. “There are not any updates on the investigation. It is an ongoing investigation. There isn't any information I can release with regard to suspects,” C. Lewis of the Detroit Police Department said in an email.
Shade Schuler, 22
Found dead on July 29, 2015
Investigation status: No charges filed. Schuler’s body was found in a vacant field. Her body was in a “severe stage of decomposition” and it took police two weeks to identify her. No suspects have been named publicly, and the Dallas Police Department did not respond to calls or emails requesting updates on Schuler’s case.
K.C. Haggard, 66
July 23, 2015
Investigation status: No charges filed. Haggard was stabbed to death, and the FBI is working with Fresno police to determine whether the slaying was a hate crime.
“We have significant leads and detectives are working tirelessly on the case,” Sergeant Jaime Rios with the Fresno Police Department said in a telephone interview.
India Clarke, 25
July 21, 2915
Investigation status: Charges filed. Clarke was killed with a single gunshot wound to the head, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. Detectives have charged a man with first-degree murder with a firearm along with possession of a firearm by a violent career criminal.
Ashton O'Hara, 25
July 14, 2015
Investigation status: Charges filed. O'Hara was found brutally murdered in a field in Detroit.
O'Hara identified as transgender, and was genderfluid and used male pronouns at the time of his death. Ashton's mom, Rebecca, held a candlelight vigil for her son and requested those in attendance wear bright colors, "because my son lived."
Detroit Police Department have a suspect in custody and a first-degree murder trial is set to begin on September 24, according to Equality Michigan.
Mercedes Williamson, 17
George County, Mississippi
May 30-June 1, 2015
Investigation status: Charges filed. Williamson’s partially decomposed body was discovered under some brush in a field behind the suspect’s father’s home, according to the Sun Herald. The suspect is facing a first-degree murder charge.
London Kiki Chanel, 21
May 18, 2015
Investigation status: Charges filed. Chanel died after she was stabbed twice in the back and once in the neck, according to the Philadelphia Gay News. Her roommate’s boyfriend is charged with murder and possession of an instrument of crime.
Mya Shawatza Hall, 27
March 30, 2015
Fort Meade, MD
Investigation status: No charges filed. Police say Hall was shot and killed after she allegedly tried to crash through a gate outside National Security Agency headquarters at Fort Meade, Md. Hall was killed by NSA police officers.
Although Hall was killed by NSA police officers, LGBT activists include her in their count of trans murders this year because they say Hall experienced many of the same issues trans women of color face in the U.S. Transgender people of color are 6 times more likely to experience physical violence from the police compared to white cisgender survivors, according a 2014 AVP analysis.
The vast majority of media coverage surrounding the NSA incident has referred to Hall and those she was with as cross dressers, transvestites and “men dressed as women.”
Keyshia Blige, 33
March 7, 2015
Investigation status: No charges filed. Blige died shortly after she was shot while she was driving. The Chicago Tribune reported her mother said Blige started hormone therapy to start the physical transformation to become a woman in January, just two months before she was killed.
There have not been any charges filed in Blige’s case nor are there any new developments to release publicly. “It’s an open/continuing investigation and we’re continuing to work it,” Dan Ferrelli said in email.
Kristina Gomez Reinwald, 46
February 15, 2015
Investigation status: No charges filed. Kristina Gomez Reinwald, who was also known as Kristina Grant Infiniti, was found dead in her home. Earlier this year in February, Miami-Dade police told the Miami New Times they were investigating multiple leads. Multiple calls and emails sent to the MDPD this week for an update went unanswered.
Brian Golec, 22
February 13, 2015
Investigation status: Charges filed. Akron Police officials say Bri Golec was stabbed by a family member. A friend who commented on a GoFundMe fundraising page said Golec identified as transgender two years ago but then started introducing themselves as Brian because they didn’t like labels. Another friend described Golec as “a trans friendly straight male with a female fiance.” The suspect has been charged with murder and felony domestic violence.
“Regardless of whether Golec was transgender, genderqueer, or otherwise gender nonconforming, they join a staggeringly long list of LGBTQ individuals who have been murdered in 2015,” wrote Human Rights Campaign manager Beth Sherouse.
Penny Proud, 22
February 10, 2015
New Orleans, Louisiana
Investigation status: No charges filed. Proud was shot multiple times and was pronounced dead at the scene, according to the New Orleans Police Department. A NOPD spokesperson said “at this time there are no updates on the case and we do not have an arrest warrant on file for a suspect.”
Taja Gabrielle de Jesus, 36
February 1, 2015
San Francisco, California
Investigation status: No charges filed. San Francisco Police Department officials said de Jesus was found stabbed to death in a stairwell. The suspect in the stabbing death may have killed himself later. Multiple calls and emails sent to the SFPD for an update on the case went unanswered.
Yazmin Vash Payne, 33
January 31, 2015
Los Angeles, California
Investigation status: Charges filed. Firefighters found Payne stabbed to death in her kitchen when they responded to a structure fire in an apartment complex, according to the L.A. Police Department. Payne’s alleged boyfriend was arrested on February 1st for the murder of Payne.
Ty "Nunee" Underwood
January 26, 2015
Investigation status: Charges filed. Underwood was pronounced dead at the scene of a car wreck. Witnesses said they heard gunshots before her car hit a telephone poll. Upon arriving officers discovered Underwood has been shot. On February 9th, police arrested and charged Carlton Ray Champion Jr. with first-degree murder in Underwood's death. He pleaded not guilty, according to KLTV.
Lamia Beard, 30
January 17, 2015
Investigation status: No charges filed. Beard was found suffering from a gunshot wound and later died at a Norfolk hospital, according to the Virginian Pilot. To date, no one has been charged with Beard’s murder and there are no updates to report, Corporal Melinda Wray, a spokesperson for the Norfolk Police Department, said in email.
Papi Edwards, 20
January 9, 2015
Investigation status: Charges filed. Edwards was shot to death at a local hotel on January 9th, 2015. The suspect has been charged with her murder. His jury trial starts October 27, according to an investigator with Louisville Metro Police Department homicides unit.
It’s hard to say whether the rising number of trans women being murdered represents an actual spike in killings or whether they are the result of more awareness and documentation. But transgender women of color are particularly vulnerable to violence. The civil-rights group Southern Poverty Law Center analyzed 14 years of FBI statistics and found that LGBT people are more than twice as likely to be attacked in a violent hate crime as blacks or Jews, and more than four times as likely as Muslims. Multiple studies have also found transgender women of color consistently face the highest rates of violence amongst the LGBT community. Transgender people of color were 1.6 times more likely to experience physical violence when compared to other members in the LGBT community, according to AVP's latest analysis.
Of the 20 trans women killed this year, according to Fusion’s tally, 17 were black or Latina. The remaining three were white. The murders have taken place across the country, including in cities with large LGBT populations like San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Miami.
Those are just the homicides that have been documented. The numbers don’t include trans men, or murder cases in which the victim may have been misgendered. They also don’t include transgender people who were shot, stabbed, or brutally attacked and left for dead but survived.
“Because our society is finally starting to pay attention to transgender people and the issues they face, we are more aware of the deadly violence transgender women of color have faced for a very long time,” said Chai Jindasurat, AVP’s co-director of community organizing and public advocacy.
“There are many barriers to tracking reports of homicides of transgender people, and we are only recently getting a more accurate picture of the problem,” said Chai Jindasurat.
Those barriers range from personal family issues to systemic institutional practices, advocates say. Police departments often hesitate to identify trans women as women, often because legal forms like birth certificates don’t match up to their gender identity, even in cases when the victim clearly presents as a woman. And because the statements the media receives from police agencies misgender victims, news stories often don’t include accurate gender identity details.
In some cases family members have requested the LGBT community to not claim a trans homicide victim as one of their own.
“Many victims could have also been in early stages of transitioning and exploring their identity, but because they lacked the support from loved ones and organizations they may not have felt safe to fully express their gender identity,” Jennicet Gutiérrez, a co-founder of FAMILIA TQLM, an immigrant rights organization.
“In my case, I fully identity as a trans woman. So if I become a victim then I’ll be counted, because I’ve been open about it for the last three years. But if I didn’t have my family, I don’t know if that would be the case,” said Gutiérrez, who says she worries about her safety when she steps out of her apartment in Los Angeles.
Transgender women of color are particularly vulnerable to violence because they represent the intersection of other marginalized groups that already face a hard time. They’re black and Latina women, for example— two groups facing some of the highest unemployment rates who also have a tougher time finding health care and housing than white women—and then they have the added layer of being transgender.
“Trans women of color are at the intersection of multiple oppressions,” explained Stacey Long Simmons, policy director at the National LGBTQ Task Force, an LGBT civil rights group based in Washington D.C.
“All of those layers on one individual identity can place you at the center of a lot of life challenges,” said Simmons.
The largest study on trans people in the U.S. that surveyed more than 6,400 individuals found 15% of black trans people and 16% of Latino/a trans people have been physically assaulted at work. One in five trans people experience homelessness—and 38% of black trans people and 29% of Latino/a trans people have been refused a home or apartment due to bias, according to the 2011 survey conducted by the LGBT civil rights groups the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National LGBTQ Task Force.
LGBT advocates say they can’t pinpoint why there's a spike in reported killings this year, but they say they hope it's not a backlash to the greater visibility of the LGBT community.
"We may not have the answers as to why these killings keep on happening, but that shouldn’t stop from us taking action now to stop this rising trend,” Simmons said.
“We need to make sure the [homicide] investigations are handled respectfully, responsibly and swiftly,” Simmons said.
Keeping up with those investigations is difficult. LGBT advocacy groups already struggle to keep living transgender women safe, and there are even fewer resources when it comes to making sure police departments are following up on murder investigations.