Zoe Spears didn’t want to go back to Eastern Avenue.
“ ‘I don’t want to die, Miss Budd,’ ” Earline Budd recalled Spears telling her about the fear she had of returning to her apartment on the street straddling the District and Maryland. “ ‘I don’t want to go back home.’ ”
Spears said she had witnessed her friend Ashanti Carmon’s killing in March, according to Budd, and was afraid that returning to where the fatal shooting occurred would lead her to the same end.
On Thursday, Spears was found dead in the street, gunned down just blocks away from the scene of Carmon’s slaying.
The death of a second transgender woman in Fairmount Heights in less than three months alarmed a community already on edge.
Though the two women knew each other, Prince George’s County police said Friday that they could not confirm whether Spears was a witness in Carmon’s slaying or say whether the homicides were connected. No arrest has been made in either killing.
“There’s no direct link that we see at this point, but that is obviously something we are monitoring very closely,” said Maj. Brian Reilly, commander of the criminal investigation division of the Prince George’s County Police Department.
Spears, 23, of Northeast Washington, was found at 11:55 p.m. Thursday near the 600 block of 59th Avenue, police said.
On March 29, Carmon, 27, was found about 6:20 a.m. shot several times in the 5000 block of Jost Street, less than half a mile from where Spears was found.
“It’s unusual that we had two murders like this within a couple blocks of each other,” Reilly said.
A woman who identified herself as a relative of Spears’s declined to speak to a reporter when reached by phone Friday, saying she wanted to consult first with her family.
Budd, a longtime transgender advocate who knew Carmon and Spears, said that many in the community are shaken by the proximity and timing of the shootings. Budd urged members of the transgender community to take extra care for their safety.
“I’m really pleading with the community and others to be aware and do not go on Eastern Avenue,” Budd said.
Budd remembered Spears as a “vibrant young person.”
“She was just trying to make it and just trying to survive on the street, and that is very difficult,” Budd said.
Ruby Corado, executive director of Casa Ruby LGBTQ Community Center, called Spears her “daughter.” Spears came to Casa Ruby about 3 1 /2 years ago and was “very broken, very hurt” from a difficult past, Corado said.
Spears loved pizza and hoped to work in retail, Corado said.
Spears had texted Corado to wish her a happy birthday on Sunday. Then she sent a request through Cash App on Wednesday night, saying she needed $10 because she was hungry. Corado didn’t see the request until Friday morning, when she also learned of Spears’s death.
“I don’t know why she went to that place,” Corado said, referring to the Eastern Avenue area.
After Carmon’s death, Spears feared for her own safety, Corado said. She did not feel comfortable staying in her apartment in Northeast Washington, so Corado helped to provide her with secure housing.
“I’m numb because you know how many times I’ve been through this? Too many,” Corado said. “We protected her. Protected her like you have no idea. This murder is bigger than Washington, D.C. . . . We live in a country where trans people these days are under attack.”
Charmaine Eccles, a transgender advocate and 911 telecommunications transcriptionist in the District, said she met Spears about three months ago through a friend.
“I was kind of like a mentor to her,” Eccles said. “She would always come to me asking for advice and help.”
Eccles said Spears had trouble coping with Carmon’s death.
“She was a bright, beautiful person,” Eccles said. “She really wanted to change, but so many struggles are placed on our community that it makes it really hard for us, even when we want to change. Sometimes it seems hopeless.”
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly referred to Charmaine Eccles as a 911 operator. She is a 911 telecommunications transcriptionist.
Peter Hermann contributed to this report.