Police in Charlotte, North Carolina, issued a “critical” warning Thursday after two transgender women were found dead in hotel rooms. Officials have characterized the deaths, which occurred less than two weeks apart, as homicides, which they warned could be connected.
Rob Tufano, a spokesman for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, said at a news conference that community members should remain “vigilant” while law enforcement seeks answers in the killings.
Tufano said a transgender woman, whom he identified as a sex worker, had been found shot dead in a Charlotte hotel room early on Thursday morning. Tufano said police were aware of the woman’s identity but said he would refrain from revealing her name as her family had yet to be informed of her death.
The homicide comes on the heels of Jaida Peterson’s death. Peterson, a Black transgender woman, was found shot dead in a different Charlotte-area hotel on April 4, police said.
Authorities identified Peterson, 29, as a sex worker, which her relatives and friends later confirmed to The Charlotte Observer.
Local Black transgender activists held a vigil in memory of Peterson last week. A reporter at the Observer said dozens of people attended the memorial, some of whom sobbed and screamed.
“My heart is breaking,” Peterson’s mother said of the loss.
Tufano said Thursday that police are investigating whether Peterson’s death is connected to the more recent attack.
The two deaths are “consistent enough” to have “gotten our attention, and it needs to get the attention of the community,” Tufano said, though he stressed it was still “premature” to link the two cases.
Tufano urged the public to contact law enforcement if they have any information about the women’s deaths and warned the community — particularly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and those involved in sex work — to be on guard.
“There’s never been a more vulnerable time for them than tonight,” Tufano said of LGBTQ sex workers.
After Peterson’s death, the Human Rights Campaign said she was at least the 14th transgender or gender non-conforming person to have been violently killed in the U.S. since the beginning of the year. Most of the victims were Black transgender women.
“This violence is alarming and unacceptable. Her life should never have been cut short,” Tori Cooper, director of community engagement for HRC’s Transgender Justice Initiative, said of Peterson in a statement. “We need everyone to speak up, affirm that Black Trans Lives Matter and take action now in order to end this violence. Jaida had family, friends and a community who cared about her and loved her, and our hearts go out to them.”
HRC noted that transgender women of color are disproportionately targeted by violence.
“We must demand better from our elected officials and reject harmful anti-transgender legislation at the local, state and federal levels, while also considering every possible way to make ending this violence a reality,” the organization said.