Attacks during the past week against men who live as women, including two shootings Wednesday night and yesterday morning, have left two dead in the District and alarmed activists of the transgender community.
D.C. police said the two latest shootings, which occurred five miles apart, did not appear to be connected. They also said there was no link to the fatal shooting of a transgender person Saturday, a case that has resulted in an arrest.
Activists in the transgender community, who have held several vigils in the past week, said Washington has emerged as one of the most dangerous places in the country for men who live as women. There have been five killings since last summer, most unsolved, police said.
"Our lives are being taken by the simple fact that we are who we are," said Ruby Bracamonte, who spoke at a news conference called yesterday to discuss the attacks. "My message is this: We are all human beings. Whatever you do, don't forget that."
Detectives are looking for similarities between the two cases, including examining ballistics evidence and trying to determine whether the attacks were connected to nearby "strolls," areas where transgender prostitutes work.
The summer also has been marked by a series of gang wars and an increasing homicide rate in the city. Yesterday, Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey declared that the city was in a crisis and suspended rules on officers' schedules and sick leave to give commanders more flexibility.
In the city's transgender community, this month's cycle of vigils and anguished news conferences began with the one-year anniversary of the slaying of two transgender teenagers in Southeast Washington. Deon "Ukea" Davis and Wilbur "Stephanie" Thomas were each shot more than 10 times as they sat in a car, a double homicide that remains unsolved.
Then, Saturday morning, Elvys Augusto Perez, a well-known drag performer who went by the name "Bella Evangelista," was shot and killed on Allison Street NW. Police arrested a 22-year-old man and said he had paid Perez for oral sex and then returned in anger after he learned that Perez was a man. With the arrest, police classified the shooting a hate crime.
A 1999 survey found about 4,000 transgender people in the District, three-fourth of whom were men living as women. Many in that community feel victimized by hate crimes, said Jessica Xavier, a District activist who did the study and works as a volunteer coordinator for the Whitman-Walker Clinic. Xavier said that 26 percent of transgender people surveyed said they had been intimidated and that 17 percent said they had been assaulted with a weapon.
"There's a war against transgendered women going on in this country," Xavier said. "It's a pandemic of violence."
Gwen Smith, a San Francisco activist who runs a Web site, www.rememberingourdead.org, said at least 283 transgender people have been killed worldwide since the 1970s. Smith said a disproportionate number of the killings had occurred in the District.
Last year, Smith said she counted 14 killings in the United States, including the two teenagers who were shot to death in Southeast in August. This year, she said, there had been 11 such homicides, including two in the District: Perez and Kevin "Mimi" Young, stabbed to death in Northeast Washington in April. With the shooting death yesterday of Aaryn Marshall, 25, in Southeast, the District now accounts for one-fourth of the national death toll this year, according to Smith's data, which are based on media reports.
Marshall, who friends said went by the name "Emonie Kiera Spaulding," was from Springfield, Mass., and Henderson, N.C., and had lived in the Washington area for about two years. An uncle, John Marshall, said that he remembered Marshall as a child who loved music and sang in the church choir but that they had not seen each other in two years.
Marshall was identified at the scene by friends, police said. John Marshall, called to the D.C. medical examiner's office to make a formal identification, said he was unable to do so from the photo that he was shown by authorities.
"I couldn't make it work. I looked at the picture for 15 minutes at least," John Marshall said. "And I just couldn't make it work."
Friends said Marshall was part of a group of gay and transgender friends who frequented an apartment on Mellon Street SE and a bar, the Players Lounge, on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE.
Marshall was last seen alive by friends about 1:15 a.m., leaving the apartment for an all-night convenience store. About 2 a.m., police received a report of gunshots in the area of Second Street and Malcolm X Avenue SE, near a wooded area that residents said draws drug users and prostitutes.
Officers found Marshall lying nude in a grassy area about seven feet off the street. Marshall had been shot in the chest and left arm and had other injuries indicating a fight, police said. Marshall was declared dead at the scene. Police sources said no clothes and no shell casings were found near Marshall's body. They speculated that the victim was driven to the spot in a car and then shot.
Friends said that Marshall was always upfront about being a man and that they didn't believe that the killer could have been a sexual partner who felt deceived. They said the killing left them puzzled and fearful. "People are being plucked off left and right, just because of their sexuality," said a 20-year-old who gave the name Diamon Vowels. "Something is up."
Wednesday's shooting occurred about 9:50 p.m. in the 300 block of I Street NW, in an industrial and mainly deserted wedge of land between New York and Massachusetts avenues.
Responding to the sound of gunfire, police found a 24-year-old D.C. resident with a gunshot wound to the torso. The victim was not fully conscious and said nothing to officers on the scene, police said.
The site is near the center of transgender prostitution in Washington, Fifth and K streets NW, but police said they were unsure whether the shooting was connected to the sex trade. Yesterday, the victim, whose name was not released, was still in critical condition, a police spokesman said.
Staff writers Petula Dvorak and Jose Antonio Vargas and staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.