Trans woman shot dead in shopping centre
The 21-year-old adds to a growing list of trans women murdered this year.
Zella Ziona was found in an alleyway near a Washington, D.C. parking lot with a gunshot wound to her head. She later died at a hospital.
Ms Ziona is the 21st transgender person killed in the United States in 2015 – a record-high number according to trans activists.
Transgender death statistics tracked by advocacy groups don’t account for those not properly identified as trans at the time of death – nor those deaths that go unreported by the media.
Police initially identified Ms Ziona as a man due to identification found at the scene, but after speaking with friends and family, authorities began correctly using her chosen gender and name.
Although police have not officially called her death a hate crime, they haven’t ruled out the possibility.
“This is a horrific crime and a tragedy for those who knew Zella,” Montgomery County Police Chief J. Thomas Manger said in a statement.
“As with all homicides in Montgomery County, we have detectives working around the clock to thoroughly and completely investigate this murder.”
Police have not identified a suspect, but a witness said that he saw the victim surrounded by and arguing with four or five teenagers – one of them then shot her four or five times.
“They argued and things happened so fast. I don’t know what they argued for,” the witness told WJLA.
Ms Ziona is the twentieth trans woman to have been murdered in the United States this year alone – sixteen of whom were trans women of colour – leading activists to describe the the situation as “an epidemic of anti-trans violence”.
“We in the transgender community right now are reeling,” actress Laverne Cox said.
Voicing her concern over the growing number of trans related crimes, she declared: “It really is a state of emergency.
“Your life should not be in danger simply for being who you are,” she added.
President Barack Obama has promised to put race-related murders and hate crimes at the forefront of his agenda, after being urged to investigate the worrying increase in trans-related killings.