Kaladaa Crowell was a 36-year-old behavioral health caseworker and mother of one child who lived with her partner in Florida.
Two weeks ago, Crowell became the fourth black lesbian whose brutal slaying made headlines at the end of December 2017.
The murders are not connected and the cases have yet to make it through the criminal justice system. Still, there is a thread of similarity running through them and LGBTQ advocacy groups say they are among a growing number of tragedies they’re tracking.
“We have been seeing an increase in violence against members of the LGBTQ community since the end of the [presidential] election cycle,” Beverly Tillery, the executive director of the New York City Anti-Violence Project, told HuffPost.
“Anti-LGBTQ, immigrant and people of color rhetoric was really being kicked up at that time, and it certainly has continued with [President Donald] Trump’s administration,” Tillery said.
Sue Yacka-Bible, director of communications at GLAAD, told HuffPost the homicides are “incredibly alarming.”
“It’s both deeply troubling and a tremendous tragedy for the LGBTQ communities,” she said.
Kaladaa Crowell And Kyra Inglett
On Dec. 28, police in West Palm Beach responded to several 911 calls about a shooting that occurred on the 800 block of 3rd St. Responding officers found Crowell dead inside her home. Her 11-year-old daughter, Kyra Inglett, was found outside the residence. The mother and daughter both had been shot, according to police. Kyra did not immediately succumb to her injuries. It was not until the following day that police announced she’d died at a local hospital.
“Kaladaa was the sweetest person,” Robin Denson told the Palm Beach Post. “She was my girlfriend and that was our home.”
Denson’s son, 26-year-old Marlin Joseph, was named a suspect in the killings. He’d reportedly moved in with the couple some 10 months earlier, after serving time behind bars for battery on a child.
According to a probable cause affidavit, Joseph and Crowell “had been arguing during the day about the fact that Kyra Inglett had a bad attitude and was not getting along with the other children who lived in the home.”
Cops tracked down Joseph on Jan. 2 and arrested him on two counts of first-degree murder. He is being held in jail without bond.
Brandi Mells, Shanta, Shanise And Jeremiah Myers
On the same day – Dec. 28 – cops in upstate New York released the identities of two adults and two children found dead two days earlier in a Troy apartment.
Shanta Myers, 36, her partner Brandi Mells, 22, and Myers’ two children, 5-year-old Shanise Myers and 11-year-old Jeremiah Myers, had been dead for about five days before their bodies were discovered, police said. The victims’ feet were bound, and their throats slit, the Albany Times Union reported.
At a press conference, Troy police chief John Tedesco described the quadruple slayings as “horrific” and an act of “savagery.”
On Jan. 5, a Rensselaer County grand jury indicted two suspects, James White, 38, and Justin Mann, 22, on multiple counts, including murder, robbery and possession of stolen property.
The indictment alleges the men were committing a burglary when they killed the women and children. They made off with an Xbox and a TV, the indictment states.
White and Mann have pleaded not guilty. They are being held without bail, pending their next court appearance.
Again, on that same day – Dec. 28 – the death count climbed.
Cops in Washington, D.C., responded to a report of gunfire on Adrian Street that evening. Upon arrival at the scene, they found a vehicle engulfed in flames. After the fire was extinguished, police found the body of 23-year-old Kerrice Lewis inside the trunk.
Lewis had been shot multiple times, but was reportedly still alive when the vehicle was set ablaze. Witnesses told police they heard her screaming as she tried to escape the burning vehicle.
Mercedes Rouhlac told WJLA News that Lewis was her ex-girlfriend and best friend.
“No matter what, she still loved me and my son,” Rouhlac said.
Authorities said Lewis’ slaying could be connected to two others that occurred earlier that day. Police are offering a reward of up to $25,000 for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of a suspect.
Tillery said that the Anti-Violence Project does not specifically track cases involving black lesbian women. Those slayings have historically been grouped together with total estimates of violence against everyone in the LGBTQ community. However, she did say the December killings merit further study.
“What’s certainly significant in these homicides is that the nature of them are different and feels more extreme,” she said. “It’s certainly significant and worth seeing what’s going on.”
Yacka-Bible, who worked 11 years with the Anti-Violence Project before she joined GLAAD, said it is difficult to track the total number of killings involving lesbian victims.
“It’s challenging,” she said. “Police often mischaracterize lesbians as friends or roommates and in those incidences their identities are obscured. LGBTQ communities are therefore not getting the whole picture of violence against our communities.”
Those mistakes not only skew the numbers, but cause additional heartache.
“It’s really painful to their friends and loved ones,” Yacka-Bible said. “In a moment where they should be mourning, they’re angry about the misrepresentation. It doesn’t give them the ability to mourn them for who they are.”
It’s an issue, she added, where both police and the media can do better.
“Misrepresentations by police tend to get repeated in press accounts,” Yacka-Bible explained. “So, from our perspective, we challenge them to dig deeper, investigate, and fully and fairly identify the folks that we’ve lost.”
‘Crisis of Violence’
No matter the numbers or the underlying reasons, the deaths have sent shockwaves through the LGBTQ community, which Tillery says has been feeling vulnerable since the 2016 presidential election.
“We’ve seen people across the country who now feel like they’ve been given some permission to act on their bigotry in ways that we haven’t seen in the past,” Tillery said. “I think that there are many more instances of violence because of that. People in the LGBTQ community and communities of color are experiencing a lot more fear and trauma because of that.”
Next week, the Anti-Violence Project will be releasing a Crisis of Violence report, which will provide data on known homicides that occurred in the LGBTQ community in 2017. Later this year, a second report will be issued on hate violence.
“It will be an eye-opener, in that it will be a continuation of the story that we’ve been telling since the election and it will really show the increase,” Tillery said. “We hope to include suggestions for things we can do collectively to address the violence that we’re seeing. Ultimately, we want people to feel like we as a society can do something about it.”