Now police say that Bee Love Slater, a black, transgender 23-year-old from South Florida, was murdered. Investigators have not announced any suspects or leads, and the sheriff’s office told reporters they could not say whether the grisly homicide was a hate crime.
“We can’t say it’s a hate crime yet because we don’t know what the motive was,” Hendry County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Susan Harrelle told ABC 7.
But advocates say Slater was the latest victim in an alarming trend, as transgender murders are spiking across the United States — particularly in Florida, where the hate crime statute does not apply to people attacked for their gender identity.
Slater’s body was found at the edge of Harlem, Fla., a small community about 65 miles west of West Palm Beach. Slater lived about 32 miles away around the southern bend of Lake Okeechobee in Pahokee, Fla., an economically depressed town best known for producing NFL talent. Her friends say Slater, who transitioned her gender earlier this year, wanted to save money to move to Atlanta, where she believed people would be more accepting of her transgender identity.
“She posted messages saying she felt as if people were after her to attack and hurt her and she had a conversation with one of her best friends the day she was murdered saying she wanted to leave,” her friend Antorris Williams told Out. “She was willing to sleep in her car until she found a job and things of that nature.”
So far, the sheriff’s office says there is “no evidence” about the cause of her death — in part because her car was scorched to its metal frame. Meanwhile, her friends and transgender rights advocates are demanding justice.
“How could someone go to that extreme to get rid of her?” her friend Kenard Wade told WINK news. “I just want justice for her.”
On Sept. 6, the day Slater was identified by the medical examiner, friends and supporters dressed in pink gathered on the grounds of an apartment complex in Pahokee. They lit candles arranged to spell out “Bee Love.” They sang together and held dozens of pink balloons shaped like hearts and stars. People took turns telling stories about Slater and remembering her life. The crowd cheered for Slater as they let go of the balloons, which floated away into the night sky.
“I’m here, and I’m going to speak and do whatever I have to do,” Vereen said. “Her name is going to live on.”