Editor’s note: At the time this article was written, the Observer was unable to immediately confirm the name of the second trans woman who was killed so a name was not published. On Friday, her name was shared by family and friends. Her name, Remy Fennell, has been added to this article.
Police and LGBTQ+ groups in Charlotte issued dire warnings on Thursday, saying an unknown person or more than one person may be targeting transgender women with deadly violence. Already, officials said, two trans women have been killed in recent days.
In one case, police discovered the body of Jaida Peterson, 29, in a hotel room, on Easter Sunday. Peterson had been shot. At a vigil last week, loved ones told the Charlotte Observer they knew she was a sex worker for a time, but they don’t agree that’s why she was targeted. Her funeral took place in South Carolina on Tuesday.
A second person was found in a hotel room at the Sleep Inn, located on North Tryon Street in University City early Thursday morning, authorities said. Friends and police officials later identified her Remy Fennell. She was 28.
In what he called an “urgent” message, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police spokesman Rob Tufano said Thursday both recent cases had clear similarities:
Both victims were shot to death in hotel rooms and, according to the police department, both were sex workers and both were trans women.
Sex workers are disproportionately Black or Latinx trans women because many don’t have any other options. Trans women of color are discriminated against and — due to racism, homophobia and transphobia — they are more likely to be unemployed, more likely to live in poverty, more likely to be without a college degree, more likely to be incarcerated and more likely to be homeless.
And they’re more likely to experience violence in their lifetime. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, more than one in four trans people has faced a bias-driven assault, and rates are higher for trans women and trans people of color.
Urgent calls for safety
Multiple LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations and activists helping with housing and other support for the trans community in Charlotte posted safety alerts Thursday night.
Charlotte Uprising said on Twitter late Thursday that “hotels are not safe at this time,” and that organizers were working to fundraise for alternative housing for Black transgender women who need other places to stay.
“Transgender women and the broader LGBTQ community in Charlotte and surrounding areas, especially those community members who engage in sex work, are being urgently warned and cautioned to protect their personal safety,” Charlotte Pride wrote in a statement, urging anyone with information to contact Crimestoppers at 704-334-1600 or charlottecrimestoppers.com.
Equality NC called Thursday’s news of a second trans woman being murdered “unthinkable horror” and posted an urgent alert asking all queer and transgender people in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County to “be on high alert and aware of anything that feels off or suspect.”
LGBTQ+ Democrats of Mecklenburg County issued a statement backing the widespread community safety alerts issued and said: “These deadly hate crimes stem from a culture that vilifies and demonizes Trans people, especially Trans women. We must have enforceable, legal protections that ensure Transgender people have equal access to housing, jobs, and services, rather than the continued marginalization that limits their opportunities and safety.”
Trans women killed in Charlotte
Tufano said it’s not clear yet that the two recent murders are connected or how the suspect or suspects came in contact with the victims. The hotel where Peterson was found dead on April 4 is located near the Charlotte Douglas Airport, about 20 minutes away from the Sleep Inn location where Fennell was found dead Thursday morning, 11 days after Peterson’s death.
“We don’t know ... but they’re consistent enough ... that it’s gotten our attention and it needs to get the attention of the community,” Tufano said.
Police department leaders had been in contact with leadership from the city’s LGBTQ+ community, he added.
Trans women involved in sex work in the Charlotte area “have to know there has probably been never a more vulnerable time for them” until arrests are made, Tufano said.
“They have to be hyper cautious, hyper vigilant.”
In a statement later, CMPD officials wrote: “Detectives have yet to determine whether the two cases are connected, but given the circumstances, the CMPD is encouraging members of the LGBTQ community engaged in sex work to exercise extreme caution and immediately report anything suspicious by calling 9-1-1.”