- The Magazine
Police have arrested a 36-year-old New Jersey man in connection with the shooting death of transgender advocate Shai Vanderpump in Trenton last Friday.
Daniel L. Smith, of Ewing, New Jersey, was taken into custody on Saturday evening during a motor vehicle stop by members of the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Special Investigations Unit. He has been charged with one count of murder and multiple weapons-related offenses.
Police and prosecutors are looking into whether to pursue potential bias enhancements against Smith, and whether Vanderpump’s gender identity played a role in her death, reports New Jersey radio station WKXW/NJ101.5.
Vanderpump, 23, was known “in Trenton and across New Jersey as a fierce LGBTQ advocate,” the LGBTQ rights group Garden State Equality wrote in a Facebook post, vowing to “fight to bring justice to Shai and her loved ones.”
According to The Trentonian, police responded to a report of a shooting at a residence in the unit block of Kelsey Avenue, in the city’s Pennington/Prospect neighborhood, around 4:40 a.m on Friday, July 30.
Upon arrival, they found Vanderpump shot in the face. She was transported to Capital Health Regional Medical Center and pronounced dead shortly after.
Detectives called to the scene discovered a trail of blood and teeth leading to the third floor of the home, according to a probable cause affidavit obtained by The Trentonian. After getting a search warrant, police found a shell casing in a front room on the third floor.
According to the affidavit, Smith allegedly called 911, claiming someone pulled him out of bed and that someone had been shot inside the Kelsey Avenue house. A witness, B.R., later identified Smith’s voice from a recording of the 911 call.
The affidavit also alleges that Smith left a party with a woman, T.W., hours before the murder, arriving at the Kelsey Avenue residence around 1:30 a.m. Vanderpump was captured by surveillance camera arriving at the house around 3:20 a.m.
Two witnesses inside the home claimed they heard T.W. screaming in the hallway and saw a light-skinned man in blue jeans and a blue hoodie with her in the stairwell. The man, later identified as Smith, walked around Vanderpump as she lay dying on the floor before running out the door.
Security footage showed men leaving the home on foot around 4:41 a.m. Footage from a camera at a nearby YMCA showed Smith running through the parking lot and washing his hands in a puddle, the affidavit claims.
Authorities then tracked Smith to his mother’s home and kept it under surveillance. Later that evening, he met up with B.R. and two female juveniles, and drove off in a silver Lexus. Ten minutes after leaving his mother’s house, police stopped the car and arrested Smith.
Police and prosecutors have not stated a motive for the crime, but an online fundraiser for Vanderpump’s burial expenses suggests she may have been killed trying to protect a loved one. Thus far, the fundraiser has received nearly $8,000 in donations.
The case remains under investigation. Anyone with information about the shooting or events leading up to it is being asked to contact Trenton Police Detective Dave Petelle at 609-989-6406, or to email any tips to email@example.com.
Vanderpump is thought to be the 32nd transgender, nonbinary, or gender-nonconforming person to have been killed in an act of violence in the United States this year — most of whom have been women of color.
Last year, 44 known trans individuals were killed, marking the highest level since statistics began being collected a few years ago. There may be more victims, as well, but it is hard to keep track, as local police and media reports may often misgender transgender people. Even in noting that Vanderpump was trans, both media outlets and police deadnamed her throughout their reports.
“The loss of Shai Vanderpump is devastating,” Tori Cooper, the director of community engagement for the Human Rights Campaign’s Transgender Justice Initiative, said in a statement. “Shai was a well-known LGBTQ advocate in New Jersey, and her loss will be felt by her friends, family and local community, as well as the wider LGBTQ community.
“Her life should never have been taken. Too many transgender and gender-nonconforming lives have already been lost. We need everyone, in every state, city and community, to help bring an end to this senseless violence and stigma that so often impacts Black trans women.”
The National Black Justice Coalition also commented on Vanderpump’s murder.
“It is absolutely devastating to have another young, Black, transgender woman stolen from us too soon,” Victoria Kirby York, the deputy executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition. “This epidemic of violence has continued for far too long, without enough action being taken to address it and protect the lives of some of the most vulnerable in our community. What we have seen are attacks on the community in the form of anti-trans legislation across the country, that does nothing more than further the discrimination and oppression the trans community already faces.
“We all must fight to protect the trans community and work to end this epidemic. Legislation needs to be codified to help prevent violence and prioritize the safety of the trans community,” Kirby York added. “All of us have to fight against the transphobia and misogyny that fuels this violence and stigma, that is present and too often accepted in our communities.”
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!