The Missouri youths who killed a transgender teenager with whom they had been friends prior to her coming out will not be charged with a hate crime, authorities in Texas County, Mo., say.
Briana Calderas, 24, Andrew Vrba, 18, and Isis Schauer, 18 have been charged with first-degree murder for their roles in the death of Ally Lee Steinfeld, 17. A fourth youth, 25-year-old James Grigsby faces felony counts of abandonment of a corpse and tampering with physical evidence, reports The Kansas City Star.
Steinfeld had been living in a trailer with Calderas, whom she had been dating shortly after coming out as trasngender in May, when she disappeared on Sept. 1. Her mother reported her missing. Weeks later, Steinfeld’s remains were found in a chicken coop outside that trailer, which is owned by Calderas.
According to prosecutors, Vrba told police he originally attempted to poison Steinfeld, but resorted to stabbing her after she would not drink the liquid. During the attack, he gouged out her eyes and stabbed her in the genitals. Calderas and Schauer then attempted to help Vrba dispose of the body by burning Steinfeld’s body. They placed the remains in a plastic bag, and with Grigsby’s help, hid the remains in the chicken coop.
Prosecutors have declined to charge any of the four with hate crime bias enhancements, which would impose stiffer penalties if they are convicted of the crimes of which they are accused. Prosector Park Stevens, Jr., has said he does not believe Steinfeld’s gender identity played a role in her death.
“I would say murder in the first-degree is all that matters,” Stevens told the Associated Press. “That is a hate crime in itself.”
LGBTQ rights groups have questioned whether the conclusions drawn by the local sheriff and by Stevens are accurate. In response, the Human Rights Campaign called on Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley to oversee the investigation into Steinfeld’s death, and ensure that prosecutors are taking seriously their obligation to pursue charges, if possible, under Missouri’s hate crimes law.
“While all details of Ally’s murder are not available to the public, those that have been shared raise serious red flags.,” HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow wrote in the letter to Hawley. “The perpetrators of this crime knew Ally and knew that she was transgender. Particularly alarming is the information that one or more of the perpetrators stabbed Ally in her genitals which heavily suggests that this was not a general crime but rather was motivated by her gender identity.
“All violent crimes are reprehensible. However, the damage done by hate crimes cannot be measured solely in terms of physical injury, or even in lives lost,” Warbelow continued. “Hate crimes rend the fabric of our society and fragment communities because they target a whole group and not just the individual victim. A violent hate crime is intended to ‘send a message’ that an individual and ‘their kind’ will not be tolerated, many times leaving the victim and others in their group feeling isolated, vulnerable and unprotected.”
Steinfeld is the 21st transgender person to be killed in the United States this year. Her death continues a disturbing trend in which the number of anti-transgender murders or attacks has risen over the past few years.
“We have well exceeded the number of homicides that we reported in all of last year, and of course we still have a lot more of the year to go,” Beverly Tillery, executive director of the Anti-Violence Project in New York City, told the AP. “These kinds of attacks are increasing unfortunately. This one is particularly brutal. We are seeing this increase, an increase in this climate of hate against LGBT people, specifically trans people. We have been calling for people to really pay attention to this crisis.”
These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and MetroWeekly.com remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!