BALTIMORE — They strutted under a red, white and blue streamer draped from a storefront tax office and in the glow of a neon sign that said, “Open,” even though it was dark inside. Mykel, Shannen, Buttacup, Esha.
For years, this spot at North Charles and 22nd streets, near the main train station, has been the hub of Baltimore’s transgender prostitution scene, a nightly choreography of cliches — heels too high, shorts too short, shirts too tight, wigs too big, makeup too heavy.
Now, one of their friends is gone, and another is injured.
Mya, on the streets since 2009, was killed and a newcomer, Brittany, was injured when officers opened fire Monday after the pair allegedly crashed into a guard post at the National Security Agency, 28 miles away.
In the early moments, the incident had the Washington region on alert, with fears that it could be terrorism or another type of planned attack. But in the end, authorities said the pair were in an SUV stolen from a man who had picked them up the night before. They mistakenly took a restricted exit and panicked when they saw police.
Officials identified them by their legal names: Ricky Hall, 27, who went by Mya, and Kevin Fleming, 20, or Brittany. When police initially noted that the two were dressed in women’s clothing, it seemed a strange twist. Later, authorities made a point to say that the garb had not been meant as a disguise.
Now, their friends in Baltimore’s historic Old Goucher neighborhood, many with questions about the encounter with law enforcement, are in mourning. Death, they say, comes too often, too young and too easy to a transgender population marginalized by a society that they say forces some to resort to prostitution, or what they call becoming “survivor sex workers.”
“They are being driven to their deaths,” Bryanna A. Jenkins, 26, who runs a transgender advocacy group, said while on a tour of the neighborhood. “Out here, you can be attacked. You can be raped. You can be arrested for being trans.”
Several transgender prostitutes interviewed as they worked Charles Street early Friday described Hall as a sweet jokester who let others stay in her motel room when she had one, enjoyed dressing in skirts and kidded her friends. “A lot of people envied her,” said Mykel Caldwell, 21.
But a woman calling herself Buttacup, who is 26 and moved to Baltimore from Fairfax County, said that Hall hit the streets in 2009 and soon became hardened — “drugs, bad men, bad decisions.” Buttacup reflected a fatalism that mirrored others who were interviewed, saying: “Mya didn’t want to change. She thought she was perfect, and she died.”
Authorities had earlier theorized that Hall and Fleming were trying to evade capture because there were drugs in the Ford Escape, which authorities said they stole from the 60-year-old who had taken them to a pay-by-the-hour motel south of the city, in Elkridge, Md.
But Maryland court records show that Hall also was facing new limits on her freedom and potentially several years of prison. She had violated terms of her probation four times since an assault conviction in 2012 — piling up a steady stream of arrests and convictions for punching a woman and stealing her methadone in Old Goucher, shoplifting skirts from stores in the Hampden neighborhood, hitting a jail guard with a stick and soliciting a male undercover police officer for a $40 sex act on Charles Street.
Hall had recently been placed in Maryland’s Violence Prevention Initiative, the state’s strictest probation monitoring. She failed to pick up a court-ordered electronic monitoring bracelet that would have required her to live in a transitional housing facility that helps people recover from drug abuse and other problems. A spokesman for the state prison system said officials had requested an arrest warrant for Hall hours before she was killed.
Many details of Hall’s background were unclear. Court records show she grew up in Owings Mills, a suburb northwest of Baltimore, and once worked delivering pizzas. Her 78-year-old grandmother is listed as a contact on many official forms; when reached at her two-story brick rowhouse in Northeast Baltimore, she declined to comment. It was not clear whether Hall has other close relatives. A mug shot from Baltimore police shows Hall with groomed eyebrows and heart-shaped tattoos trailing under the right eye, and wearing a disheveled wig.
According to court records, Hall lived in a variety of places in Old Goucher, including what is now a vacant rowhouse and a group home for homeless teenagers. The community, roughly 40 square blocks, boasts 1800s Victorian rowhouses and was home to three Baltimore mayors during the 19th century. Plans are in the works to plant 300 trees. Kelly Cross, 36, the head of the community association, said he wants to build on an adjacent arts district that is trying to remake a dangerous corridor by getting Harvard students to set up studios and bring in a private collection of contemporary art.
Cross said transgender prostitution has abated in recent years but remains a stubborn problem. Prostitution, he said, used to be the focus of every community meeting.
“I decided that my focus would be on trying to change the condition of the neighborhood,” he said, “as opposed to chasing people around from one block to another.” He said the prostitutes “are a symptom of a weak neighborhood, a lack of businesses, a lack of economic vitality.”
The neighborhood has two methadone clinics, a center for battered children, housing for the homeless. On Thursday, the shelter where Hall once lived had a sign on the front door promoting a job fair: “Convicted felons welcome.”
Cross said the services moved in because of the need, but he also said they have a negative impact in that “they feed off each other. . . . Before you know it, you have this ecosystem of people struggling.”
Jenkins, the transgender advocate, said she met Hall briefly about two years ago when she worked with a group passing out condoms and trying to help the prostitutes with housing and legal matters. “Mya had a hard life,” Jenkins said. “She just wanted to have a job, a life, a home. Just the simple things.”
The hospital where authorities said that Fleming was being treated deny having anyone there by that name, and the FBI did not make the name public and will not discuss a medical condition. Two law enforcement officials with knowledge of the investigation identified Fleming as the injured person. Fleming’s family could not be reached.
Amy J. Thoreson, spokeswoman for the Baltimore field office of the FBI, said Friday that no charges had been filed against the second person in the car.
On the street early Friday, the women hustled for tricks as cars slowed for drivers to survey the scene. Shannen, one of the women working Charles Street, declined to share her last name. “None of us want to live like this,” she said. “But we learn lessons in life, and we die.”
The women were just as interested in posing questions as answering them. Who claimed Hall’s body? What did her parents say? How many times was she shot? Why did the police have to shoot her?
Most of all, they felt isolated from the normal ritual of grief as they mourned together on Charles Street.
Asked Buttacup, a tear running down her cheek, “Will she have a proper funeral?”