Two trans women killed in the US on the very same day as violence spills into 2021

Josh Milton
·4-min read

Two trans women were slain on the same day in the US, raising the spectre of a spree of violence that shows no signs of stopping this year.

Iris Santos, a Latinx trans woman, and Natalia Smüt, a “firecracker” of a drag performer who dazzled audiences with her lip-syncing prowess, were separated by some 2,000 miles.

But on 23 April, both their lives were tragically cut short.

Santos, 22, was sitting at a picnic table in Houston, Texas, when an individual beelined towards her, opened fire, killed her and walked away, local enforcement said.

Smüt, 24, was murdered by a man she was reportedly dating at her home in Milpitas, California.

While records may vary between monitoring groups, mired by misgendering and deadnaming among police and press reports, there have now been at least 18 trans or gender nonconforming people violently killed this year, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

This tally would make Smüt and Santos the 17th and 18th people killed respectively – an unnerving statistic that has shuddered fear among the American trans community.

In four months, the community has mourned: Tyianna Alexandra, Samuel Edmund Damián Valentín, Bianca Bankz, Dominique Jackson, Fifty Bandz, Alexus Braxton, Chyna Carrillo, Jeffrey ‘JJ’ Bright, Jasmine Cannady, Jenna Franks, Diamond ‘Kyree’ Sanders, Rayanna Pardo, Dominique Lucious, Jaida Peterson, Remy Fennell and Tiara Banks.

What happened to Iris Santos?

In a flyer shared by Houston Police Department officials, the force is urging “the public’s assistance identifying the person of interest in the murder of Iris Santos”.

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At around 9:45pm outside of a Chick-Fil-A on 8609 Westheimer Road, by a bustling intersection crammed with supermarkets, eateries and banks, Santos was fatally shot.

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Investigators said that the fast-food restaurant’s manager heard gunshots and dialled 911. Officers arrived at the scene to find Santos suffering from her wounds.

Santos’ loved ones are “requesting the community’s help with identifying the suspect”, the flyer added.

The department’s Office of Community Affairs, helmed by LGBT+ liaison Josephine Jones, released local surveillance footage Saturday (1 May) of the suspect walking up to where Santos was sitting.

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A second clip, caught by a vehicle’s dashcam, shows the suspect fleeing the scene by running into an apartment complex less than 10 minutes after the shooting.

Anyone with information is asked to contact Houston Police’s Homicide Division at 713-308-3600 or the Crime Stoppers tipline at 713-222-TIPS.

What happened to Natalia Smüt?

Natalia Smüt, a Black Puerto Rican and beloved drag performer, was stabbed to death in her home in the northern Californian city by Elijah Cruz Segura, 22, of nearby Union City, according to the East Bay Times.

Segura, the Milpitas Police Department said, dialled the authorities himself at 2:29am from the 1000 block of Hillview Court. A bloodied Segura led cops to the victim.

She later died at a local hospital.

Segura was arraigned Tuesday (27 April) and faces charges of murder with a weapon enhancement for his alleged use of a knife in the killing.

Smüt’s death quickly touched off a wave of grief, anger and fear among the LGBT+ community, with more than 100 people attending a vigil for her at San Jose City Hall.

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To many, Smüt was remembered for her “motivating and creative spirit”, “captivating performances” and her “love for advocacy within the community”, according to a blog post from LGBT+ advocacy group Project More.

“My sister was amazing,” Smüt’s sister, Vanessa Singh, told the newspaper.

“She was the strongest, most beautiful, and courageous person I know, and now we all have to live without that light in the world.

“I want to see that justice served and that Elijah spends the rest of his life in jail.

“But there will never be enough justice for me because my sister is gone.”