Dee Whigham, a 25-year-old black transgender woman, was found dead in a Best Western Hotel in St. Martin, Mississippi, on Saturday night. She had been stabbed to death.
On Monday, Jackson County police charged Dwanya Hickerson, a 20-year-old navy seaman, with capital murder, or murder committed in the course of a robbery, The Associated Press reported. Whigham had been in town for the Gulf Coast Black Rodeo, according to local media. Hickerson was captured on security footage leaving the hotel she was staying in.
The state's hate crime laws do not specifically cover crimes committed against a person because of their gender identity or sexual orientation, though they do cover gender-based hate crimes.
Jackson County District Attorney Tony Lawrence told the Sun Herald he "cannot speculate on the motive," but police appear to be considering investigating Whigham's murder as a hate crime. "If this turns out to be a hate crime, we will pursue this to the fullest in court," Jackson County Sheriff Mike Ezell told the newspaper.
Her death comes just weeks after the murder of another black trans woman, Deeniquia Dodds, near her Washington D.C. home.
Whigham was a registered nurse working at Forrest General Hospital in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
"It’s just, I don’t know, it’s just amazing that someone would take someones life to me for not any valid reason,” Alfreida Hawthorn, a friend of Whigham's from nursing school, told WDAM. “I’m proud of her for being who she is and never letting people change her."
Evan Dillard, the president and CEO of Forrest Health, said Whigham will be missed by colleagues and patients at the hospital. "She will be remembered at Forrest Health as an excellent nurse who was well-loved by her patients. I know Dee will be missed by her co-workers, supervisors, and the Forrest Health family,” Dillard said in a statement.
She is at least the fifteenth transgender person to be killed in America this year, according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Projects.
"The violence that transgender women of color face is rooted in racism, misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia," said Emily Waters, Senior Manager of National Research and Policy at the New York City Anti-Violence Project, in a statement. "We need to notice how these biases and violence are present in all of our everyday environments, and then work to change them. This violence will only end when every person takes responsibility to end it.”
Last year the NCAVP recorded a 20% rise in hate crime murders committed against LGBTQ people. More than 50% of the 24 LGBTQ people killed in 2015 were transgender women of color like Whigham.
A memorial for Whigham will be held in Jackson, Mississippi, on Wednesday evening.