Two transgender women from New York City were found dead and their bodies were badly burned in a car in Puerto Rico. The police found the Hyundai Elantra under a bridge on the PR-927 highway in the Mambiche Prieto neighborhood in Humacao, which is in southeast Puerto Rico. The car belonged to the mother of one of the women, according to the Primera Hora.
The two transgender women were identified by locals as 21-year-old Layla Pelaez and 32-year-old Serena Angelique Velazquez from New York City. The two women were visiting the island but they were reportedly planning to return to America at the end of the month.
The chief of criminal investigations for the Puerto Rico police in Humacao, Capt. Teddy Morales told the New York Times that a 911 call had reported the burned car just before 5 a.m. on April 22. Investigators are looking to identify two men who were on one of the women's social media accounts who may have partied with the women at one of their homes the night before the murder.
The deaths of the women bring the total number of transgender people killed in Puerto Rico to at least four in 2020 alone, according to the Human Rights Campaign or HRC. Local activists say eight people from the LGBTQ+ community have been killed all in all this year.
A spokesperson for the Broad Committee for the Search for Equity, Pedro Julio Serrano, told NBC News that homophobic murders are after the community. In February, a transgender woman named Alexa was shot dead after reports that she used the women's bathroom at a McDonalds in Toa Baja, becoming the first transgender person killed in Puerto Rico in 2020. On March 11, Yampi Mendez Arocho, a 19-year-old transgender man, was killed in Moca after reports of an assault.
Ivana Fred, an activist with the Broad Committee for the Search for Equity, told HRC that more and more people from the LGBTQ+ community are being killed. First, it was Alexa, then Yampi and now Serena and Layla. She stated that enough is enough and transgender people deserve to live in peace, with equity and freedom. She is calling to stop all the hate.
Transphobia, misogyny and racism
In America, at least 26 transgender people were killed in 2019, although activists say the number is likely higher than reported. Between 2017 and 2018, there was a 34% increase in violent hate-based attacks on transgender people. This is according to the statistics from the Federal Bureau of Investigation or FBI.
According to a report by the HRC, nearly 9 in every 10 victims were transgender women. Tori Cooper, HRC Director of Community Engagement for the Transgender Justice Initiative said that transgender and gender non-conforming people, especially women of color, are too often the victims of a toxic mix of transphobia, misogyny, and racism.
Cooper is calling for people and policy to work together to protect the lives of those in the LGBTQ+ community. She added that HRC stands in solidarity with all who knew and loved the two victims, Layla Pelaez and Serena Angelique Velazquez.