New Orleans police sought to calm the rattled nerves of the city’s LGBT community on Wednesday in the wake of the killing of two transgender women in less than 48 hours.
But while authorities said the killings do not appear to be related, they offered few new details on the shooting of pageant performer Chyna Gibson in New Orleans East on Saturday or the stabbing of Ciara McElveen in the 7th Ward on Monday.
Doug Eckert, the commander of the NOPD’s Criminal Investigations Division, said that detectives have uncovered no evidence thus far that either killing was a hate crime.
“At this time there’s nothing demonstrating that this is a hate crime. If we learn that it’s a hate crime, of course we’ll pursue the charges,” Eckert said.
Eckert said police were asking the public for any information — no matter how seemingly minor — on either killing. He promised that detectives would thoroughly investigate both deaths.
“What the community needs to know is that the New Orleans Police Department investigates every murder to its fullest extent regardless of race, age, sex, sexual orientation, disability, national origin,” Eckert said.
He said neither killing appears to have been motivated by robbery.
With no suspects named and no arrests made in either case, the slayings have sent fear rippling through the city’s transgender community.
The killings came just weeks after a video circulated on social media of men attacking a transgender woman walking along North Claiborne Avenue, not far from where McElveen was found. A Police Department spokeswoman said detectives have spoken to the victim in that incident but no arrests have been made.
Kahliha Wood, 29, said she went through her gender transition with Gibson, who also went by the stage name Chyna Doll Dupree. Gibson, 31, offered her practical tips and had her back “100 percent” through the trying phase, Wood said.
Gibson moved first to Houston and then to Sacramento, California, after Hurricane Katrina, Wood said. Gibson was in town to enjoy Mardi Gras and to perform in the Southern Dynasty Review, Wood said.
“I think it was a hate crime, because Chyna was the most sweet, innocent person in the world,” she said. “She was a lovable person. She didn’t have enemies.”
Wood said that when Gibson was gunned down about 8:30 p.m. Saturday, she was visiting a beauty supply store in the 4300 block of Downman Road to buy accessories for her show.
“I haven’t really been outside since, because it makes me feel like we’re targeted now. Just by us living our truth, we get targeted by other people who I guess hate us,” Wood said. “I have to look over my shoulder.”
Meanwhile, police released new surveillance images of a two-door, black Chevrolet Camaro with chrome rims that detectives believe was used to dump McElveen's body in the 1600 block of Columbus Street about 8:30 a.m. Monday.
Police and a witness said the driver of the Camaro pulled McElveen out of the car and onto the ground. Responding officers discovered her body with several stab wounds. She was taken to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
The surveillance image of the car appears to have been taken from a camera at a popular seafood store on North Claiborne Avenue. Police said the driver of the Camaro took off lakebound on Columbus Street after dropping off the body.
Iyranikka Runnels, 26, said that McElveen was a New Orleans native who moved to Gonzales after Hurricane Katrina and moved back to New Orleans in 2008 or 2009.
McElveen was a sharp-tongued but sweet person who often came to her house for sleepovers, Runnels said.
“Her parents found out that she wanted to be transgender, and her family didn’t really accept that. And when she first moved out there she was living in a shelter, and we kind of lost contact,” Runnels said.
The two reconnected over Facebook in 2014. McElveen told her she had found a place to live and was back on her feet, Runnels said.
The two spoke over the telephone at the beginning of February and nothing seemed wrong, she said.
“I just hope whoever did it comes forward. It’s just hurtful,” Runnels said.
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