Shai Vanderpump, a 23-year-old Black trans woman with a “heart of gold”, was slain in a tragic shooting while defending her “love” in Trenton, New Jersey.
Described by those who knew her as a “superhero” who placed her family above all else, the LGBT+ activist’s death has shaken the state capital community.
At around 4:40am on Friday (30 July), Trenton police responded to a report of gunshots at a residence in the first block of Kelsey Avenue, in the city’s West Ward neighbourhood.
Cops found the victim had been shot in the face, the Trentonian reported.
Despite emergency medical technicians efforts to save her, Vanderpump passed away at the Capital Health Regional Medical Center.
After police combed through the victim’s residence, spoke with witnesses and watched local surveillance footage, police took Daniel Smith into custody late Saturday evening.
The 36-year-old was detained during a motor vehicle stop in Ewing by the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Special Investigations Unit. Smith has been charged with one count of murder and multiple weapons offences.
The Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office has not yet said that transphobia may have fuelled the murder, but detectives are currently investigating potential bias.
Anyone with information is asked to contact Detective Dave Petelle 609-989-6406. Tips can also be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A crowd-funder has been set up to raise money for Vanderpump’s funeral expenses – with loved ones alleging that she was “murdered for protecting [her] love”.
“[Vanderpump] was affectionately known for [her] smile, [her] style, [her] love of family and most importantly BEING [HERSELF]!” the GoFundMe reads.
“[She] had a heart of GOLD & [she] will give you [her] last no matter what [she] had. [She] loved to see everyone happy & smile.
“[She] loved life, [she] protected everyone [she] loved & left here being a superhero!”
Shai Vanderpump is the 32nd trans person slain in the US in 2021
Vanderpump is at least the 32nd trans, non-binary or gender non-conforming person to have been killed in the US this year alone, according to the Human Rights Campaign, which has been monitoring the endless waves of killings.
Even as trans Americans have eked out some political victories under the Biden administration, from the first openly trans, Senate-confirmed federal official to sweeping protections, violence against the community has continued to soar.
Already mourned this year by the trans community are: 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, Tiara Banks, Natalia Smüt, Iris Santos, Tiffany Thomas, Jahaira DeAlto Balenciaga, Keri Washington, Sophie Vásquez, Danny Henson, Whispering Bear Spirit, Serenity Hollis, Oliver ‘Ollie’ Taylor, Thomas Hardin, Poe Black, Novaa Watson, Aidelen Evans and Taya Ashton.
HRC experts warn that this year’s tally, already dizzying in its height, will inevitably surpass last year’s grisly total of 44. Making it the deadliest year since HRC’s records began with more trans folk violently killed this year than in six full recent years.
Each year’s death tolls, they add, are also undoubtedly higher than what the advocacy group is aware of.
There are many reasons why, they stress, noting that the tragic killings of some of America’s most vulnerable and marginalised groups so often go unreported or even misreported – with both police and the press misgendering and deadnaming victims.
This often leads it to local, grassroots initiatives to comb homicide reports and to reach out to community leaders and victim’s loved ones. Meaning many deaths are missed.
Such violence towards trans people is unsurprising, the HRC add, considering the “culture of violence” the community face.
Anti-trans stigma, which can take the form of elevated levels of homelessness and poverty to being treated as political targets by Republicans, are all outgrowths of this bigotry – violence is its flashpoint.
“The loss of Shai Vanderpump is devastating,” Tori Cooper, HRC director of community engagement for the Transgender Justice Initiative told PinkNews.
“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 non-conforming 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.”