On Transgender Day of Remembrance, These Are 25 Trans People Killed, So Far, in 2017
Nearly 20 years after TDOR was created, the violence perpetrated against transgender people in the U.S. remains horrific—as the stories behind those who have died this year reveal.
The year 2017 is already the deadliest on record for transgender Americans—and there’s still a month to go.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, at least 25 transgender people have been killed this year, surpassing 2016’s total of 23. The majority of victims were black transgender women. The youngest were just 17 years old; the oldest was 59.
Transgender Day of Remembrance, observed every Nov. 20, was created in 1999 by Gwendolyn Ann Smith to memorialize the victims of these killings. Smith was moved by the story of Rita Hester, a black transgender woman who was stabbed in the chest 20 times inside her Boston apartment in November 1998. Her murder remains unsolved.
Nearly 20 years later, the violence perpetrated against transgender people in this country remains horrific—and for that reason, it remains necessary to reckon with it.
Many of this year’s victims were repeatedly shot, others were stabbed.
Seventeen-year-old Ally Steinfeld, a transgender teenager living in Missouri, was found with her eyes gouged out, her genitals stabbed, her bones in a bag, her remains burned.
It would be too easy to call this violence senseless; the reality is that it makes perfect sense: We live in a country where hatred of transgender people runs rampant—and where violence against the transgender community is culturally condoned.
We live in a country where states have tried to keep transgender people out of public accommodations, where federal protections for transgender workers have been stripped, and where the president of the United States himself tried to eject transgender people from what is likely the community’s single largest employer: the military.
The inability to see the connection between legislative attacks and physical violence will only allow both to continue: Transgender people are disproportionately more likely to be unemployed and living in poverty, which pushes many in the community to the streets, where they are more likely to be assaulted and killed.
Nor is home always a reliable shield from suffering, as transgender people are more likely to be abused at the hands of family members and intimate partners, according to the U.S. Trans Survey. Absent strong protections, transgender lives will continue to be endangered.
The stories of this year’s killings are complex: Some transgender people died in police shootings. At least one was homeless. Many were misgendered by the local press in initial reports, making it a challenge for LGBT advocates to gather their stories. In most cases, the killers have not been found. And even in cases where suspects have been arrested, none—even Steinfeld’s alleged killers—have been charged with a hate crime.
These are the names and the stories of the transgender Americans killed this year, pieced together from local media reports and the reported words of surviving loved ones.
1. Mesha Caldwell, 41, a hairstylist and makeup artist, was the first known transgender person to be killed in 2017, just four days into the year. Her body was found near a rural intersection about 30 miles north of Jackson, Mississippi, in the town of Canton on Jan. 4.
As the Clarion-Ledger later reported, citing the coroner’s report, she had been shot multiple times. Caldwell’s friend Evonne Kaho described her to the Sun Herald as “a happy person that loved everyone and never met a stranger.”
2. Sean Hake, 23, was shot by police inside his mother’s home in Sharon, Pennsylvania, on Jan. 6.
As WFMJ reported, police were responding to a 911 call from the transgender man’s mother. Pennsylvania State Police Lt. Erick Hermick said that “the incident escalated” after officers arrived. At the time, details of the shooting were scant.
An investigation later found, as KDKA reported, that Hake had threatened his mother, had blood “dripping from his wrist,” and refused to drop the utility knife in his hand as he approached an officer. The officers involved in the shooting were not charged.
3. Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow, 28, was stabbed repeatedly on New Year’s Day inside her Sioux Falls, South Dakota, apartment, as KDLT reported.
Her body was not found by police until Jan. 6. Two days later, police arrested a suspect—25-year-old Joshua LeClaire—charging him, as KSFY reported, with both first-degree and second-degree murder, among other charges.
As KDLT noted, the community later gathered at the apartment complex to “Take Back the Site” by burning sage and offering prayers. A friend of the murdered transgender and two-spirit woman told KDLT that he wants the people of Sioux Falls to “know all of us are human—there’s nothing different.”
4. JoJo Striker, 23, was found in an empty garage in Toledo, Ohio, on Feb. 8, as WTOL reported, dead from a single shot to her torso. Her mother told WTOL that Striker was “loved” and begged the community, “If you know something—anything—please stand up.”
Police had no leads at the time but a spokesperson later told the Toledo Blade that they believe the shooting took place either inside or close to the garage.
At that point, Striker’s mother told the Blade that, although she hadn’t spoken to her transgender daughter for a year, she remained her “biggest fan” and that she “wish[ed] it didn’t come to all of this while [they] were not speaking.”
5. Tiara Richmond, 24, who also went by the name Keke Collier, was shot repeatedly on Feb. 21 in a neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago, as the Chicago Sun-Times’ Homicide Watch project reported.
According to police, as the Sun-Times reported, she was seen in a vehicle with a man at 6:14 a.m. When officers arrived, the man had driven away and Richmond was found on the street suffering from multiple gunshot wounds. She was transported to a nearby hospital, where she died.
As the Human Rights Campaign observed, two transgender women had been found dead on the very same street in 2012. A friend of Richmond’s told the Chicago Tribune that Richmond “loved to dance all the time” and “was always the life of the party.”
6. Chyna Gibson, 31, was the first of two black transgender women in New Orleans to be murdered in seemingly unrelated incidents across a single 48-hour period.
Gibson, a drag performer also known as Chyna Doll Dupree, was fatally shot on Feb. 25, after neighbors reported hearing between eight and 10 gunshots, as the Times-Picayune reported.
Friends of the victim described her in interviews with the paper as being “very good at entertaining” and as “a person who would walk in the room and complimented everybody and just wanted you to feel good and have fun.”
7. Ciara McElveen, 26, was fatally stabbed in the 7th Ward section of New Orleans on Feb. 27 after being dragged out of a Camaro by its driver, as the Times-Picayune reported. She died after being taken to a nearby hospital.
Police identified 54-year-old Leonard Ward as a person of interest in the case on April 18, the Times-Picyaune reported in a follow-up piece, not because Ward was suspected of the stabbing the transgender woman but because he may have had “valuable information” about the stabbing.
McElveen’s public defender from a previous court case told the paper that her client “was a leader, a powerful spirit for everyone who met her, and a true voice for the trans community.”
8. Jaquarrius Holland, 18, died from a gunshot to the head on the evening of Feb. 19, 2017, in Monroe, Louisiana.
The following morning, as KTVE-KARD reported, police had issued an arrest warrant for a suspect—Malcolm Derricktavios Harvey—who they believed shot the transgender woman following an argument.
On the afternoon March 20, as KNOE reported, Harvey was arrested, booked, and charged with second-degree murder. A friend of the victim told Mic that Holland loved makeup and hairstyling, calling her the “eyelash queen.”
9. Alphonza Watson, 38, was shot in the stomach in the Barclay neighborhood of Baltimore early on the morning of March 22 before being pronounced dead at Johns Hopkins Hospital, as the Baltimore Sun reported.
Witnesses reported that two men were seen driving away from the scene of the shooting. The transgender woman’s mother told the Sun that her daughter was “the sunshine of our family,” describing her as “a very caring, passionate, fun person to be around, always in a talkative and playful mood.”
As the Human Rights Campaign noted, Watson was the seventh black transgender woman to be reported killed in Maryland since 2014.
10. Chay Reed, 28, was fatally shot on April 21 in the West Little River neighborhood of Miami, as WPLG reported.
Reed, a transgender woman and lifelong South Florida resident, was adored by the friends she made at the now-defunct employment program Homestead Jobs Corps, who told the Miami Herald that she “was the life of the center,” that “she was like a mom,” and that she “loved to dance her heart out.” The Miami-Dade Police Department recently confirmed to The Daily Beast that the investigation into Reed’s murder remains open.
11. Kenneth Bostick, 59, was attacked in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan on April 25 and then died from injuries to his skull on May 7.
According to an extensive Village Voice sketch of the homeless black transgender man’s life, Bostick had largely lived at Penn Station in recent years, in between stints at a shelter on 25th Street. Interviews with his social worker and a dormmate painted him as quiet, introverted, but also “super nice” and “very kind to everyone.”
As the Voice reported, police believe he had been hit with a metal pipe—and then he spent 30 minutes lying on the sidewalk before help arrived. Twenty-six-year-old Joseph Griffin, also homeless, was charged with manslaughter in mid-May.
12. Sherrell Faulkner, 46, died on May 16 of this year after being found next to a dumpster after a violent assault she had initially survived in November 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina, as WJZY reported.
Because she died as a result of her injuries, police began investigating her death as a homicide. As Splinter reported, friends remembered Faulkner as “the light of the party” on a GoFundMe page where they raised money for her funeral expenses.
13. Kenne McFadden, 27, was found dead on April 9 floating in the San Antonio River in the popular River Walk section of the waterway, and was initially determined to have drowned, as the San Antonio Current reported. But in June, as the Current noted, police simultaneously revealed that the incident was indeed a homicide, that the victim was a transgender woman, and that a person of interest had already been detained.
A friend of the victim told KENS that McFadden was “super outgoing, super charismatic, [and the] friendliest person ever.” Police, KENS noted, believe that McFadden may have been intentionally pushed into the river.
14. Kendra Marie Adams, 28, was found dead on June 13, her burned body lying next to a gasoline container inside an Ithaca, New York, building, as the Ithaca Journal reported.
Surveillance video led police to arrest 45-year-old Michael Davis and charge him with second-degree murder and first-degree arson. As the Journal noted, police investigators determined that there had been a “personal relationship” between the alleged killer and the transgender woman.
Non-binary actor Asia Kate Dillon, who appears on Showtime’s Billions and uses “they” pronouns, wrote on Instagram that they had gone to school with Adams: “She was my friend. You better say her name.”
15. Ava Le’Ray Barron, 17, became the youngest transgender murder victim of the year when she was shot to death in Athens, Georgia, on June 25.
Jalen Breton Brown, a 21-year-old man who was later charged with the murder of the transgender teen, claimed self-defense, as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported, citing a fight the two had been having in the parking lot of an apartment complex.
Mourners described the murdered girl as “unapologetically real,” a “social butterfly gone too soon,” and a “brave young woman who feared nothing, nobody, and especially not being herself.”
16. Ebony Morgan, 28, suffered multiple gunshot wounds in Lynchburg, Virginia, before dying at a nearby hospital after officers reported to the scene, as the News and Advance reported on July 3, the day after the transgender woman passed away.
By that point, a person of interest—22-year-old Kenneth Allen Kelley Jr.—had been named. A local LGBT organization called it “a very sad day for us in Lynchburg.”
17. TeeTee Dangerfield, 32, was found suffering from multiple gunshot wounds early on the morning of July 31 near her car outside of an apartment complex in the Atlanta-area municipality of College Park, as the Georgia Voice reported.
The transgender woman later died at Grady Memorial Hospital. College Park police told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that they had “no information that points to the shooting being the result of our victim being transgender.”
A cousin told WSB-TV that Dangerfield, who was a restaurant server and union shop steward working at a restaurant at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, was “an all-around beautiful person.” Dangerfield’s mother told the station, “My best friend is gone.”
“Colleagues loved her. She was a very sweet person, very honest, and when she needed to speak up she spoke up,” Nadia Taylor, a union organizer for UNITE HERE Local 23 in Atlanta, told my Daily Beast colleague Tim Teeman. “She was definitely seen as an upcoming union leader.”
18. Gwynevere River Song, 26, a transgender person who used “they” pronouns was fatally shot after an Aug. 12 argument with another adult in their Waxahachie, Texas, home, as the Daily Light reported.
Friends and online acquaintances of Song who posted on their online tribute wall remembered them as “fiercely intelligent,” “empathetic,” “resilient,” “passionate,” and “kind.”
19. Kiwi Herring, 30, was shot and killed by police on Aug. 22 after officers responded to reports of a cutting in a St. Louis, Missouri, neighborhood, as KMOV reported.
As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch later reported, police said that the transgender woman and her downstairs neighbor had gotten into a dispute over a fire pit on the back deck, that Herring had subsequently stabbed that neighbor, and that Herring had been shot after cutting one of the responding officers. Herring’s partner was charged in connection with the cutting of the downstairs neighbor.
20. Kashmire Nazier Redd, 28, died from several stabbing injuries sustained during a Sept. 4 argument with his partner in their Gates, New York, apartment, as the Democrat & Chronicle reported.
The transgender man’s 40-year-old partner Doris E. Carrasquillo was subsequently charged with second-degree murder.
The Human Rights Campaign and other LGBT groups cited the story to raise awareness of the domestic violence faced by transgender people. According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, 35 percent of transgender people have reported experiencing physical violence from an intimate partner—5 percent higher than the general population.
21. Derricka Banner, 26,was fatally shot in a car outside a Charlotte, North Carolina, home and then found by police shortly after 3 a.m. on Sept. 12, as WSOC reported.
The next day, police charged 18-year-old Montavious Sanchez Berry with murder, armed robbery, and shooting into an occupied vehicle, as the Charlotte Observer reported. The transgender woman was raised by her grandmother, who told WSOC shortly after Berry’s arrest that she had “been crying ever since it happened.”
22. Scout Schultz, 21, an engineering student and the president of the Pride Alliance at Georgia Tech, was fatally shot by a campus police officer near a parking garage on the night of Sept. 16 after officers repeatedly told the non-binary student to drop a “knife,” as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
Photos showed that the object in Schultz’s hand was a multitool containing a knife. Schultz, a non-binary student who used “they” pronouns, was shown on cellphone video yelling at the officers, “Shoot me!”
Suicide notes were later found in Schultz’s dorm room, and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation discovered that Schultz had made a 911 call before the shooting to warn about a “suspicious person” who was “holding a knife.” As WSB-TV later reported, the officer who shot Schultz did not have crisis intervention training for dealing with people in the middle of a psychiatric crisis.
23. Ally Steinfeld, 17, a transgender teenager the same age as Ava Le’Ray Barron, was brutally killed, her burned remains found by police in a chicken coop near a Southern Missouri mobile home weeks after her September disappearance.
As the Associated Press reported, her eyes had been gouged out, she had been stabbed in the genitals, and some of her bones were in a bag. The 24-year-old owner of the trailer, Briana Calderas, and two 18-year-olds were charged with the murder—and, as The Daily Beast reported, texts exchanged between them appear to show them working to cover up the horrific killing of Steinfeld, who had also lived in the trailer.
The prosecution in the case, as CNN reported, did not pursue hate crime charges even though, as Lambda Legal’s Dru Levasseur said, “There couldn’t be a more vivid example of someone being targeted because of their gender identity than being stabbed in their genitals.”
24. Stephanie Montez, 47, was found dead from multiple gunshots on a stretch of road near Robstown outside of Corpus Christi, Texas, on Oct. 27, as the Corpus Christi Caller-Times reported.
Montez’s friend Brittany Ramirez told the paper that Montez “was one of the sweetest people you’ll ever meet” and “had a great outlook on life.”
Three suspects—39-year-old Cedric Green, 41-year-old Randy Dorsey, and 36-year-old Chloe Huehlefeld—were arrested and charged in early November. An arrest affidavit obtained by the Caller-Times suggests that Montez may have been killed as part of a dispute over stolen money.
25. Candace Towns, 30, was found by a public works crew on Oct. 31, lying on a driveway between two houses in Macon, Georgia, as WMAZ reported.
The transgender woman had been shot to death, and a missing persons report had been filed for her the previous day. In early November, as the Macon Telegraph reported, the police began looking for the owner of a gold sedan that Towns appears to have met at a hotel before she was killed.
The victim’s friend, Malaysa Monroe, told the Telegraph, “I just don’t know who would want to do something like this to a good friend of mine, but I hope whoever did this, I hope God don’t have mercy on your soul, baby.”