When California police received a call at 12:21 a.m. Nov. 11, reporting gunfire inside a home on Oakland’s Dunbar Drive, they confronted a gruesome scene.
As they pulled up, the Los Angeles Times noted, they found a woman drenched in blood running from the doorway of the house — not her own — to an awaiting motorcycle. She had with her, police said, knives, ammunition and a set of metal knuckles.
Inside the house, the bodies of 57-year-old Patricia Wright and her 56-year-old wife, Charlotte Reed, were found, riddled with bullets and stab wounds. Laid out in front of the house was their 19-year-old son Toto M. Diambu, known to neighbors as Benny Diambu-Wright. He had been shot to death.
In addition, the home’s garage was on fire, which was quickly contained by the Oakland Fire Department.
The woman is accused of killing the family and setting the home on fire. When she was arrested, she “began to make spontaneous statements about her involvement in the murders,” Officer Hector Jimenez wrote in a statement of fact obtained by the Los Angeles Times.
On Tuesday, Dana Rivers was formally charged with three counts of murder, arson of an inhabited space and possession of metal knuckles, according to the Mercury News. If convicted, she could receive life in prison without parole or a death sentence, if the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office chooses to pursue it. No plea has been filed.
Rivers was a national advocate for transgender rights who was working on a book in 2001 concerning these issues but who seemed to have faded into obscurity during the past several years.
Rivers first became known to the world in 1999 when she was fired from her teaching position at Center High School in Antelope, Calif., outside Sacramento.
At the time, her name was David Warfield and her recognized gender was male. Warfield was said to be a wonderful teacher — receiving an $80,000 grant and in 1993 winning the Stand and Deliver award, given to the school’s most inspiring teacher. Previously, she had served on a school board in Huntington Beach.
Though it seemed none of that mattered to the school board, because Warfield identified as she and changed her name to Dana Rivers later in 1999.
“From as far back as I can remember, I felt different,” Rivers said in a Sacramento Bee profile in 1999. “I got Tonka trucks for Christmas and it didn’t feel right. I was socialized as a boy, but I didn’t feel as though I belonged. One of our neighbors had a playhouse in the yard and I remember very clearly wanting to be the mother.”
The cause of her dismissal, apparently, was the revelation that she was transgender and planned to transition. The school district argued that she discussed her transition — a personal matter — with several students after being expressly warned to keep such matters private, according to the Los Angeles Times.
”The board members didn’t want a transsexual teacher,” Ray Bender, a board member who voted against dismissal proceedings, told the New York Times at the time. ”They said they didn’t want to create confusion for the students.”
The board voted 3-2 to fire Rivers.
Controversy surrounding the decision quickly spread. Appearances on “Today” and “Good Morning America” and a profile in the New York Times solidified her modest celebrity.
”I didn’t have to send a letter to everyone telling them what I was doing. I could have just walked into school. But what confusion would that have led to?” she told the New York Times in 1999.
After months of legal battles, Rivers finally settled for $150,000 and resignation. Since then, she has remained largely out of the public eye.
Police have not released a motive in the slayings, though they told the Sacramento Bee it may have involved property.
Rivers does not have a criminal background. As a teenager, she would skip class and experimented with drugs, but after moving out of her family home, she joined the Navy and served for three years, before leaving to begin teaching.
Her background does share some similarities with the elder two victims.
Wright was also a teacher — at the time of her death, Wright worked part time teaching computer science at an elementary school in Oakland.
Reed, Wright’s wife, meanwhile was a veteran of the U.S. Air Force.
Young “Benny” was an aspiring nurse.
“He had an infectious smile,” Wright’s son Khari Campbell-Wright told KTVU. “He was a great kid. He did well in school.”
Campbell-Wright also called Wright a “great woman” and a “great educator.”
It seemed Rivers was familiar with the victims — Campbell-Wright recalled meeting her in the past. He also offered forgiveness.
“I forgive the person that did it,” Campbell-Wright told the TV station, “I have no hard feelings. It’s in God’s hands. You can’t control the things that happen in life.”
It’s unclear what Rivers’s job was during the time of the attack, but the Sacramento Bee reported that she hoped to return to the classroom.
As of early Friday morning, Rivers was being held at Santa Rita Jail, without bail. It is unclear if she has a retained a lawyer or if she has entered a plea. She’s expected back in court on Wednesday.
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