At least 22 transgender
killed in 2018.
On Transgender Day of Remembrance, we look back at the lives lost this year to understand who they were, where they lived, and how they died. Cumulatively, their stories remind us that despite rising visibility in media and popular culture for transgender Americans, the rate of violence against transgender people, and especially trans women of color, remains at a level of national crisis. They also begin to provide a picture of how intersections of racial and gender-based discrimination and disenfranchisement can place many transgender people in high-risk circumstances—often involving sex work, substance abuse, and homelessness. Many of these murders remain unsolved.
Scroll down to read our extended profiles of victims Viccky Guttierez, Janelle Ortiz, De’janay Stanton, and Shantee Tucker for a sense of how full each of these lives lost were.
North Adams, Massachusetts
Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien was a well-known LGBTQ advocate in North Adams, Massachusetts. According to the Boston Globe, she co-founded the New England Trans United Pride March and Rally more than a decade ago and in 2009 founded the Miss Trans New England Pageant, which "empowers trans woman to achieve their personal and professional goals and provides a forum in which to express their opinion, talents, and intelligence," she told the Rainbow Times in 2012.
Steele-Knudslien dedicated her life to uplifting trans women, both emotionally and professionally. "Her thing was always that transgender women are beautiful and need a venue for trans women to be seen as beautiful," longtime friend Justin Adkins told NBC news in January.
"She made it a mission to have a party around being trans," Lorelei Erisis, another longtime friend and winner of the first Miss Trans New England pageant, told the Boston Globe.
On January 4, Steele-Knudslien was stabbed and beaten to death in her home at the age of 42. According to a police statement, her husband, Mark Steele-Knudslien, allegedly later went to the police and admitted to killing his wife. After being charged with her murder, however, he plead not guilty in court. In mid-September, the Berkshire Eagle reported that Steele-Knudslien remained held without the right to bail as authorities pursued DNA evidence.
Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien was the first known transgender woman murdered in 2018.
Los Angeles, California
Viccky Gutierrez relocated to the United States from Honduras, five years after her best friend from childhood, another trans Latina woman named Cristy, made the move. Viccky and Cristy grew up together in Honduras, and both became active in the Los Angeles transgender community after migrating. Three months before she was killed, Gutierrez volunteered for a TDOR event, honoring her fallen trans sisters.
Gutierrez was 33 years old when she was stabbed and her apartment set on fire. Twenty-nine-year-old Kevyn Ramirez has been charged with her murder and is awaiting trial.
Gutierrez is remembered by the trans Latina community in LA. After her death, more than $12,000 was raised for her family in Honduras, and the consulate had her body returned to them. Gutierrez had plans to relocate to Utah with her best friend, and had recently obtained her work permit. She was a vibrant person with plans for her future.
Police found Celine Walker fatally shot inside a hotel room in Jacksonville, Florida on February 4. She was 36 years old at the time.
Shortly after Walker’s death, a friend under the name Naomi Michaels on Facebook wrote: "Celine was not a pageant girl. She didn’t even enjoy going to gay clubs or events. She lived a low key life where she did whatever needed to be done in order for her to survive."
Buffalo, New York
On February 6, Tonya Harvey was shot and killed on a dead end street in Buffalo, New York, where she lived. She was 35 years old at the time.
Harvey also went by the nickname "Kita." On her Facebook page, many commented after her death that she was a talented performer. "I remember her when she was young, always so kind, respectful, loving, always had a smile," one friend also wrote.
"Not only was she beautiful, she was strong ... everything she put her mind to, she did it with conviction," another friend shared about Harvey on their own page shortly after her murder, according to Mic.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Zakaria Fry was living in Albuquerque, New Mexico when she went missing on January 18, along with Eugene Carrell Ray, a 70-year-old retired lawyer from whom she was renting a room at the time. Fry’s body was discovered on February 19, covered in white paint and stuffed into a trash can. Ray’s body was discovered on the same day in a trunk two miles away. Soon after, Albuquerque police charged 32-year-old Charles Anthony Spiess with both murders. A police spokesperson told KOB4 that Spiess may have been living with Fry and Ray. Fry was 28 years old at the time.
Shortly after Fry’s death, friends remembered her fondly on her Facebook profile. "You helped me come out. You told me fuck anyone who disagrees, and fuck all of those who can’t accept my happiness," wrote one friend. "You were beautiful, an inspiration, and one of the best people!"
"You were such a fun and positive person despite all the challenges you faced in life," another friend wrote. "You were a brave, strong, and inspirational woman. Your spirit lives on and you are missed by many."
Phylicia Mitchell was a hairdresser and nearly 30-year partner to Shane Mitchell. The two met as teens after Phylicia Mitchell ran away from home because her family was unaccepting of her identity, Shane Mitchell told Cleveland.com. The two both battled drug addiction and homelessness throughout their life together, Shane Mitchell added.
On February 23, Phylicia Mitchell was shot and killed outside her home in Cleveland, Ohio. She was 45 years old at the time. A 36-year-old man named Gary Sanders was later charged with Phylicia Mitchell’s murder. According to court records cited by Cleveland.com, the shooting occurred during a drug-related dispute between the two.
"I miss her tremendously," Shane Mitchell said. "That's my soulmate. We went together everywhere. We did everything together. We always held hands on the bus. Years ago, people didn't respect that, but they do now."
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
On March 26, Amia Tyrae Berryman was shot and killed in a motel room in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The 28-year-old worked at a home healthcare company, although WBRZ (which misgendered and dead-named Amia) identified her as a sex worker.
NeVaa White, a close friend of Tyrae Berryman’s, told Mic that Tyrae Berryman was part of a tight-knit community. "She made family with her peers in the LGBT community of Baton Rouge. White added that Tyrae Berryman would always stand up for her friends, "despite being bullied herself." She also told Mic that Tyrae Berryman "didn’t have a easy life," and that she "was taken away in the very manner she feared."
Dedrick Butler, 22, was subsequently arrested and charged for Tyrae Berryman’s murder, according to the New York Times. Although he admitted possessing a firearm at the time, he denied shooting Tyrae Berryman.
Chesterfield County, South Carolina
On April 1, Sasha Wall was found shot dead in her car on a rural road in Chesterfield County, South Carolina. It was Easter morning, and the county’s sheriff, Jay Brooks, told the Daily Beast that several drivers had passed by Wall’s car, which was stalled in the middle of the road, on their way to church service before someone finally stopped to find her slumped over the steering wheel with her engine still running. Brooks added that it appeared the shooter may have been sitting in the passenger’s seat. Wall was 29 years old at the time.
According to the newspaper the State, Wall lived in a mobile home outside of Pageland, South Carolina. After her death, Mic reported that one friend posted on social media: "Sasha Wall you had me always taking photo of you, you stayed ready for the camera. I will miss you my beautiful sister. I cannot sleep, I hope they find who did this."
North Dallas, Texas
On May 9, Carla Patricia Flores-Pavon was found strangled to death in her apartment in North Dallas, Texas. A 26-year-old man named Jimmy Eugene Johnson II was later charged with her murder, with the alleged motive of robbery.
According to Mitu, Flores-Pavon was 26 years old and Honduran. A vigil was held for her shortly after her death. Attendee Monica Roberts, activist and board member of Black Transwomen Inc., told NBC 5: "These murder cases tend to be exceptionally violent and we fail to understand in the community why they aren't classified as hate crimes."
Shortly after Flores-Pavon’s death, a friend by the name of Gia York Herrera on Facebook wrote: "Sister Karla Patricia Pavón, finding out the news that you’re no longer with us gives me much sadness. I knew you very little but whenever we saw one another, it was nice to talk to you and laugh together. … It hurts me greatly because you were a person with a good heart."
In Atlanta, Nino Fortson was a beloved member of the House of Blahnik, part of the local ballroom scene, according to Them. The gender-nonconforming individual was apparently known for walking in the "Butch Realness" category and went by Nino Blahnik and Nino Starr.
On May 13, Nino Fortson was found fatally shot on a street in Atlanta at the age of 36. Them reported that a witness saw Fortson in the midst of an "argument" with two men and two women, then heard gunshots shortly after they walked away and looked back to see one person on the ground while another limped away, according to statement sent by police.
Shortly after Fortson’s death, Kamaro Blahnik, father of the House of Blahnik, mourned Fortson in a Facebook post using both he/him and she/her pronouns. "Please keep Nino’s family and Tera her wife in your prayers also his Starr Family," Blahnik wrote. "I know a lot of you were close to Nino. My heart goes out to each of you and please keep me in your prayers as I mourn the loss of my Son as well."
On May 21, Gigi Pierce was shot and killed in Downtown Portland, Oregon at the age of 28. A woman named Sophia Adler was eventually charged with the murder. A witness told KATU-TV that she saw the two women fighting before Adler finally shot Pierce.
Friends told Willamette Week that Pierce, who grew up in Boise, Idaho, was filled with life but also that she struggled with substance abuse and homelessness. According to the newspaper, Pierce’s friend, Dallas Jackson Falls, said in a statement: "Gigi was a performer through and through. Life was her stage, and those fortunate enough to know her were her audience. Granted, you never knew whether you were getting a drama, comedy or even, in some moments, an action-filled tragedy. That was the thing about her, you just never knew what you were going to get."
On June 1, Antonia English (who went by Antash’a) was shot and killed in Jacksonville, Florida at the age of 38. Police found her body left between two abandoned buildings, First Coast News reported. According to the outlet, English was a regular performer at the night club InCahoots. "She was an unapologetic, bold, and loyal person," Taliyah Smith, a friend of English, told First Coast News. "We met years ago while at a gay pageant. We both were entertainers."
English described herself on her Facebook profile as "a very independent transgendered woman ... who thrive[s] on being the best person I can be."
Diamond Stephens was shot to death on June 18, but because she was initially misgendered by both the police and the media, she wasn’t identified as a transgender woman until late July. On the night of her death, the 39-year-old was driving home, likely to get ready for work, when she was shot in the back of the head. She was in the driver’s seat, causing her vehicle to crash into a home in Meridian, Mississippi.
"We are hurting really bad," Stephens’s cousin Georgia Brown told WTOK in the aftermath of her death. "I don’t really know what words to say other than we need God to help us and give us strength to make it through this situation and pray to God that whoever did this is found."
Cathalina Christina James was planning a big move from Florida to New York City earlier this year when the 24-year-old was found shot dead outside a Quality Inn in Jacksonville on June 24. James was fond of posting videos on Facebook, which often received thousands of views, updating her friends and followers about her life. According to her mother, who spoke to First Coast News following her daughter’s death, James loved to dance and travel and was known as the life of the party.
Keisha Wells lived in Cleveland, Ohio for the entirety of her 54 years before her life tragically came to an end on the morning of June 24. Her aunt Regina Spicer remembers her as a generous person who enjoyed telling funny stories. Known as "Pokey" to those she was close with, Wells had recently lost her mother and brother.
Wells’s body was found in the parking lot of an apartment building at 7 AM on a Sunday with no identification and eleven bullet casings surrounding her. Police said she suffered from a gunshot wound in her abdomen, and charged a man named James Butler in connection with her murder.
Sasha Garden was found dead at an apartment complex in Orlando on July 19, showing signs of trauma. Garden, who was originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was 27 at the time.
Mulan Montrese Williams, a local advocate for transgender women who knew many in the local sex worker community, told Orlando Weekly that Garden was a sex worker who aspired to becoming a hair stylist and that she was likely working when she was murdered.
"She was a firecracker – very outspoken," Montrese Williams told the newspaper. "She didn’t hold her tongue for anyone or anybody. Her womanhood was one of those things she stood up for. She didn’t tolerate any disrespect at all."
Vontashia Bell was 18 when she was was shot to death in Shreveport, Louisiana on August 30. Police found Bell lying on the street with gunshot wounds to her chest and wrist. She is the youngest known trans women killed this year. She died on the same day as De’janay Stanton, another transgender woman killed in August this year, inspiring some advocates to memorialize the two side by side on social media.
De’janay Stanton grew up in Englewood, Chicago where she was known in her community for her sense of style and positive energy. The 24-year-old, whose nickname was "Dada," lived with her her mother, stepfather, and four siblings, before she was shot and killed on August 30 in Bronzeville, a neighborhood in Chicago.
Over 100 people showed up to a candlelight vigil the following day to honor her memory. "As I’m seeing all these post[s] about my sister I could tell she was love[d] by many," wrote her brother on Facebook on the day of the vigil. "She was the back bone to some of y’all." Those who remember her say her family was very close to her heart.
Shantee Tucker, 30, was a local legend in the Philadelphia trans community. According to friends, she had just gotten a new job that she was proud of, and was someone who always saw the light in dark times. A no-nonsense Black trans woman, Tucker left an impact on many people in Philadelphia who still struggle to accept her death.
On September 5, Tucker was shot and killed on Old York Road, allegedly by someone in a black, Ford pickup truck. Old York Road, a common site for street-based, transgender sex work, is also a notorious site of violence against trans women. Tucker’s memorial became a call to action from the local community of trans sex workers, who say they are sick of seeing so many friends buried over the years. Tucker's killer has not been apprehended, according to police.
North Port, Florida
London Moore was 20 years old when she was shot multiple times and killed in an underdeveloped area of North Post, a small town outside Jacksonville, Florida. She has been remembered for her humor, and the joy she brought to the people she loved. Her Facebook page has become a public memorial—where Moore’s posts about getting through difficult times, the hardship of dating, and astrology stop abruptly in the days preceding her death. One shared post warns of predators in Florida.
The police reportedly believe Moore’s killer was someone she knew, but responded to the possibility of a hate crime by saying "murder is murder," and that it would be difficult to determine motive before apprehending a suspect. Moore has been misgendered by multiple local news stations, a phenomenon that makes it difficult to identify transgender victims, and worse still, victimizes them again, after death. One month before she was killed, Moore wrote, "I stand tall will never fall."
Janelle Ortiz, who also went by the name Nikki Enriquez, was known to loved ones as an outgoing, fun-loving person. "If a person needed a favor, [she] was always there," her younger sister Rosenda Ortiz told Broadly. "[She] was a person of heart."
On September 15, police found Janelle’s body near mile marker 15 on Interstate 35 in Laredo, Texas. Soon after, Juan David Ortiz (no relation to Janelle Ortiz’s family), a Border Patrol agent and Navy veteran, confessed to killing Janelle along with four other women. Authorities believe he was targeting sex workers. Ortiz’s case will be presented to a grand jury on December 5.
Ciara Minaj Carter Frazier was known for her involvement in Chicago’s local ballroom scene, and, according to trans activist LaSaia Wade, though she was a generally quiet person around strangers, "once she started talking she just kept on going."
On October 3, Frazier was found dead in Chicago’s West Garfield Park neighborhood. She was 31 years old. Since Frazier’s death, friends have flooded her Facebook photos with comments expressing their love and grief. "I’m so hurt right now!!!" posted a loved one under one of her photos. "Love you to the moon and back Rest Easy my [angel emoji]."
All photos via Facebook, or courtesy of friends or family.
Compiled by Diana Toujée, Leila Ettachfini, and Sarah Burke.
'A Person of Heart': Janelle Ortiz As Her Family Knew Her
Janelle Ortiz, aka Nikki Enriquez, was known by her loved ones as a deeply loyal and outgoing person until she was killed in September at the age of 28.
'My Baby Was Really Loved': A Mother and Community Mourn De’janay Stanton
De’janay Stanton was just getting started when the 24-year-old Chicagoan was fatally shot in August.
'A Shock to All of Us': LA's Trans Latina Community Mourns Viccky Gutierrez
Before being stabbed to death in January, Viccky Gutierrez was a vibrant member of the tight-knit Los Angeles trans Latina community.
'A Local Legend': Remembering Shantee Tucker, Trans Woman Killed in Philly
In September, Shantee Tucker was shot eight times and killed in Philadelphia. She is remembered by friends as someone who was always "the life of the party."