Zella Ziona, 21, became the 22nd trans woman to be killed this year after she was shot in the head Thursday evening in Gaithersburg, Maryland.
NBC Washington reports the incident happened in an alley between Montgomery Village Plaza and Montgomery Village Crossing shopping centers. A witness told reporters the incident happened quickly when Ziona was arguing with four or five men or possible teenagers. One of the suspects pulled out a gun and shot Ziona in the head.
She was taken to a local hospital where she was pronounced dead. The witness said he held down his horn long enough to get the attention of the suspect and tried to chase him down with his car.
Initial reports misgendered Ziona as DeAndre Smith. Police don’t believe the shooting was random and could possibly be labeled as a hate crime.
NBC Washington reports:
“We are looking at many possibilities in this stage of the investigation,” Montgomery County police spokesman Capt. Paul Starks said. “We are not ruling out the possibility that this could be hate-based.”
“This is a horrific crime and a tragedy for those who knew Zella,” Chief J. Thomas Manger said in a statement Friday. “As with all homicides in Montgomery County, we have detectives working around the clock to thoroughly and completely investigate this murder.”
Several outlets have labeled Zionna as the 21st trans woman to be killed this year, but The Daily Dot’s list of slain trans woman labels Keisha Jenkins as the 21st trans woman. Jenkins was killed earlier this month in a physical assault in Philadelphia. After defending herself from a group of men in a park, she was shot twice in the back. Police have arrested one man in connection with the incident.
Jasmine Black, a friend of Zionna’s says she recently identified as transgender to show she wasn’t afraid to be herself.
“She just wanted to embrace her life. She wanted to show the world how to be transgender,” Black said. “She helped people. She inspired someone else named Chris to be himself.”
Zionna is the 19th trans woman of color killed in 2015. The number has sadly rose over the years, inspiring the hashtags, #BlackTransLivesMatter and #ProtectTransLives.
Friends and supporters took to social media to remember Zionna.