A homeless transgender woman in Puerto Rico was shot and killed just hours after someone called police to report that she had used a women’s restroom at a McDonald’s restaurant.
Police later identified the transgender woman as Neulisa Luciano Ruiz, also known as Alexa. Her body was found in a vacant lot in Toa Baja on Monday morning.
An out-of-focus video posted to social media appeared to show a figure that looks like Ruiz being pursued by someone in a vehicle, and murdered — though the graphic images of the actual shooting are not shown.
Other videos were allegedly posted to social media showing Alexa being pursued and tormented by people yelling slurs at her.
At least two voices could be heard in the video, with someone saying: “Hey, can you give me some of that ass.” Voices are then heard saying: “We are going to shoot you up,” “Let’s spin the tires on this motherfucker,” and “You bet I am going to go and shoot him.”
Then, the sound of a gun loading can be heard, followed by at least 10 shots, reports NBC News.
It appears that Ruiz’s killing occurred hours after an unidentified man filed a false police report alleging that she had used a handheld mirror to peek inside a stall in a McDonald’s restroom and shared footage of it on Facebook. After being questioned by police, he withdrew his complaint.
On Tuesday, Puerto Rican police announced that they had received tips that four teenagers were involved in the crime, according to Telemundo Puerto Rico.
According to El Nuevo Dia, police detained a 17-year-old suspect and his mother at the Luis Muñoz Marín airport in Carolina, and brought them in for questioning related to the shooting, though police sought to clarify that neither person had been officially arrested.
Police are treating the investigation as a murder and not a hate crime, though additional charges or bias enhancements could be brought at a later time.
But LGBTQ activists say it’s clear that Ruiz was targeted because of her gender identity.
Pedro Julio Serrano, an LGBTQ activist from San Juan, demanded that authorities investigate Ruiz’s murder as a hate crime. In a statement posted on his website, Serrano said Ruiz was “stalked and hunted” prior to her killing and that video evidence shows the act was “a hate crime motivated by intolerance.”
Serrano criticized conservative groups for promoting a widely used but debunked trope that transgender people only want to use bathrooms that match their gender identity for nefarious purposes. He also lashed out at initial media reports misgendering Ruiz as a “man dressed in a black skirt.”
“We must denounce the hate speech of the fundamentalist groups that have promoted a climate where they prosecute and persecute a trans person for the mere fact of using a bathroom,” Serrano wrote.
The Human Rights Campaign mourned Ruiz’s death.
“[Ruiz] was a human being, a member of a community, a friend and family member,” Tori Cooper, HRC’s director of community engagement for the Transgender Justice Initiative. “She had dreams, hopes, hobbies and did not deserve to have her life taken from her. HRC has heard that Ruiz was experiencing homelessness, further highlighting the ways a toxic mix of transphobia and misogyny conspire to put the transgender community at risk of extreme violence.”
The LGBTQ legal firm Lambda Legal denounced the shooting in a statement that also called on law enforcement to “expeditiously investigate” the crime and decide whether to pursue any hate crime charges against suspects.
“This is a horrific murder, one that by all appearances was motivated by bigotry and transphobia,” Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, a senior attorney at Lambda Legal, said. “A transgender woman in Puerto Rico was mocked, harassed and then murdered for the simple act of using the women’s bathroom — the one consistent with her identity. We must recognize: Bigotry kills. Transphobia kills. … As a people, we must do better. We must not only say that #TransLivesMatter, but our government and our society must demonstrate it through actions and deeds.”
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