Motorists found Sasha Wall, 29, slumped over her car’s steering wheel on a rural road in Chesterfield County on Sunday, according to local law enforcement.
Wall’s Toyota was parked in the middle of the road, according to Jay Brooks, the county’s sheriff. He also said several people passed by the car on the way to morning church services before someone pulled over, noticed the car was still running, and tapped on the tinted window. The motorist called 911 when they found Wall unresponsive.
“Whoever killed her, they were furious,” Brooks surmised. He also revealed Wall’s body had several bullet wounds and that investigators believe the shooter may have been sitting in the passenger seat. The local sheriff’s office has launched an investigation into the homicide, joined by state law-enforcement officials.
Brooks told The Daily Beast that authorities do not yet have sufficient evidence to determine if Wall’s death was the result of a hate crime.
Family members told authorities that Wall had problems with past boyfriends—notable in a state that was ranked fifth in the nation for its rate of women killed by men in domestic-violence incidents. And the possibility that her death was related to her gender identity is all too real.
Six of the eight trans women murdered since January were women of color, according to the Human Rights Campaign, which has tracked violence against trans people and non-binary people since 2013. Last year was the deadliest year for trans women on record.
In South Carolina, 23 hate crimes were reported to the FBI in 2016, the lowest for the state since the agency started tracking in 1996, the Charleston Post & Courier reported. But the Palmetto State is one of only five states that does not have a hate-crime law—a fact pointed out by multiple outlets after Dylann Roof murdered nine black churchgoers in Charleston three years ago.
Additionally, trans victims face indecency in local media coverage. In Wall’s case, WCNC-TV ran a headline Sunday that misgendered her as a “man found dead inside car.” Fox 46 wrote about a “Man found shot to death in driver's seat.”
“No one should be forced to fight to be respected in life only to be disrespected in death,” Sarah McBride, National Press Secretary at the Human Rights Campaign, told The Daily Beast. “The heartbreak of these murders is only intensified for family, friends, and the broader trans community when trans victims are misgendered in reporting by law enforcement and coverage by the media.”
McBride added: “The misgendering serves to reinforces some of the most harmful prejudices and misconceptions people have about trans identities, and in so doing, can feed frequently fatal violence.”
In January 2017, the South Carolina House of Representatives introduced a hate-crime bill. But it never progressed.