Mesha Caldwell was found dead on Wednesday afternoon on a road outside Canton, Mississippi. She was shot to death, according to local news reports.
She was 41, black, and transgender. She’s the first trans person reported murdered in 2017.
“She was a happy person that loved everyone and never met a stranger,” Evonne Kaho, CEO of a trans advocacy non-profit, Love Me Unlimited 4 Life, and a former roommate of Caldwell’s, told the Sun Herald. “For me as a black transgender woman and the leader of the community, it’s a very hard pill to swallow. This is a tragic event, and it not only impacts the trans community, but the community as a whole.”
Her death is being investigated as a homicide, according to MS News Now. The Madison County Sheriff’s Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether her case is being treated as a hate crime.
Last year saw a record number of reported trans murders, with at least 23 trans people killed. That could indicate an increase in reporting by police and media–either way, the number represents the disproportionate rates of violence faced by trans people, especially trans women of color.
Because police and media reports often misgender trans people and because LGBTQ people are more reluctant to report crimes for fear of police brutality, it’s hard to arrive at an accurate number of trans people murdered in any given year.
Caldwell graduated from Jackson State University and was a hair and makeup artist, MS News Now reports.
“She always, always dressed like a girl,” Mary Young, a family friend of Caldwell’s, told Mic. “And as she grew up, she became beautiful just like a lady.”
Young continued: “I really don’t know why somebody would want to kill her.”
Caldwell’s murder comes with a grim start to the year for transgender rights in the U.S., which has seen protections for trans people’s access to health care compromised by a Texas court ruling and under further threat by appointments made by President-elect Donald Trump to the federal justice and education departments.