Erykah Tijerina was found dead in an apartment in south central El Paso on Monday. She was 36 years old, Latina, and could be the seventeenth transgender person to be killed this year, by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Projects' count.
Tijerina's body was found by neighbors, who alerted the police. Medical examiners have not yet released Tijerina's cause of death but said there were "obvious signs of foul play," according to a statement from the El Paso Police Department. A spokesperson for the El Paso Police Department told Fusion her death is not currently being investigated as a hate crime. Hate crime laws in Texas don't provide specific protections based on gender identity.
“We’re still in shock about it. It was unexpected,” Pearl Tijerina, Erykah's sister, told KFOX-14. “She’s the one that told me to stay strong and not care."
Several local reports misgendered and deadnamed (used her birth name instead of the name she identifies with) Tijerina in their initial reports.
"She was like yeah, ‘I’m a girl. I'm a trans-girl, and you better respect me no matter what,” Chyna Fierro, a friend of Tijerina's, told El Paso Proud. "She just wanted to be treated like anybody else."
One of Tijerina's sisters started a GoFundMe page asking for donations to help the family with her funeral.
The director of a Dallas-based transgender advocacy group released a statement connecting Tijerina's death to an environment of anti-transgender discrimination fostered by transphobic laws being considered in Texas, which mirror North Carolina's laws restricting trans peoples' access to public restrooms of the gender they identify with.
“Trans Pride Initiative would like to encourage all community and accomplices to raise our collective voices against not just the media and police misidentification, but also the broad state-sponsored stigma that is growing in Texas and elsewhere, which fuels bias that exacerbates bullying in our schools, refusal of social services, denial of employment and other life opportunities, and increases the many faces of violence with which our community is so familiar," Nell Gaither, President of Texas' Trans Pride Initiative, said in a statement.
Tijerina's death is the latest in an epidemic of violence affecting trans women of color across the country. In July, at least three trans women of color were killed—if confirmed by activist groups, Tijerina could be the seventeenth trans person killed this year. The NCAVP's 2015 LGBTQ hate violence report found that at least 24 LGBTQ people were killed in 2015: 54% were trans women of color like Tijerina. There was a 20% rise in hate crime killings of LGBTQ people between 2014 and 2015, according to the report.