The body of a prominent figure in Florida’s gay rights movement was found in a landfill last week, and authorities now believe his death was the result of “foul play.”
Jorge Diaz-Johnston, 54, was found dead in a Jackson County landfill days after the Tallahassee Police Department announced they were looking for the gay rights advocate who vanished on Jan. 3.
According to the Tallahassee Democrat, a family friend had posted on Facebook that morning that Jorge was missing and hadn’t been seen since around 3 p.m. The friend said he did not have his car with him.
A spokesperson for Tallahassee police, Alicia Turner, confirmed that Diaz-Johnston’s body was found dumped in the landfill on Saturday morning.
“Our preliminary findings have led us to determine that foul play is suspected in this case,” Turner told The Daily Beast on Thursday, adding that an autopsy has been completed. Details about his manner of death have not yet been publicly released.
In 2014, Diaz-Johnston and his husband, Don Diaz-Johnston, were among six same-sex couples who sued the Miami-Dade County Clerk’s Office for denying them marriage licenses. The couples emerged victorious when a Miami-Dade circuit judge sided with them, and Florida became the 36th state to overturn a ban on gay marriage in 2015. Jorge and Don finally wed on March 28, 2015, the Tallahassee Democrat reported.
On Wednesday, Don Diaz-Johnston struggled to share the devastating news of his partner’s passing in a Facebook post with friends and family, saying that his husband had “touched so many people with his kind and generous heart.”
“I can’t stop crying as I try and write this. But he meant so much to all of you as he did to me. So I am fighting through the tears to share with you our loss of him,” he wrote. “This is all so sudden.”
Around 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, a driver for a garbage transportation company “was on his way back to Okaloosa County to pick up another load when he got a call to contact law enforcement,” the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office said. Less than an hour later, the Tallahassee police had identified the remains as belonging to Johnston-Diaz.
Tallahassee detectives are investigating Johnston-Diaz’s death as a homicide, cops said. No suspects have been publicly identified in the case.
The 54-year-old’s brother is Manny Diaz, the Florida Democratic Party chair and former Miami mayor. He acknowledged his sibling’s legacy in a statement on Thursday.
“My brother was such a special gift to this world whose heart and legacy will continue to live on for generations to come,” he said.
In a statement Thursday, Equality Florida said members of the gay rights organization were “heartbroken” over the discovery and lauded Diaz-Johnston and his husband as “two of the brave plaintiffs” who challenged the state’s gay marriage ban.
“Jorge was a crucial part of this historic lawsuit that's one of the biggest moments of the LGBTQ civil rights movement in Florida history,” the group’s deputy director, Stratton Pollitzer, told the Tallahassee Democrat. “It’s incomprehensible to hear that one of our heroes has been taken from us.”
When asked about a potential motive and whether any evidence pointed to a hate crime, Turner said that the investigation’s findings so far do not suggest that Johnston-Diaz’s death was linked to his history of activism, but the investigation is ongoing.
“We’re looking into all avenues of what happened so that we can bring justice to the family in this case and the victim,” she said.