Zella Ziona: Black Trans Woman Shot In The Head — Was Her Murder A Hate Crime?

Marking the second murder of a black trans woman this month, a Maryland woman named Zella Ziona was shot in the head and left in an alley to die. Law enforcement officials are considering classifying her death as a hate crime.

According to the Huffington Post, 21-year-old Zella Ziona was found in an alley on Thursday of last week, suffering from a gunshot wound to the head. She was rushed to a local hospital, but could not be saved. Initial investigations have led police to believe that the murder of Zella Ziona was not random.

“We are not ruling out the possibility that this could be hate-based,” said Montgomery County police spokesman Captain Paul Starks told the station.

Witnesses told WJLA that they heard Zella Ziona arguing with a group of teenagers right before the sound of four to five gunshots.

“I only saw one gun. It just happened so fast, and kind of scary. They argued and things happened so fast,” said a witness who wished to remain anonymous. “I don’t know what they argued for.”

Another witness who only identified himself as Joe claims he tried to chase down the the shooter in his car.

“[I] blew my horn, stayed on my horn long enough to get his attention, and then he looked up and took off running,” he said.

At first, Zella Ziona was misidentified by police as DeAndre Smith, but was later determined to be one of 21 transgender women to have been murdered in the United States this year. DeAndre was the birth name of Zella Ziona before she became a transgender woman.

Zella Ziona

Friends and family of Zella Ziona gathered around the alley where she was killed, lighting candles and paying their respects with balloons.

“She was just amazing,” said friend Barbie Johnson. “When Zella’s around, there’s not a single frown in the room.”

“It’s tragic,” said a man who lives near the alley where Ziona was found. “Senseless violence is something none of us wants to live around.”

Another friend, Jasmine Black, said that Zella showed incredible bravery in a world that still hasn’t accepted transgender individuals.

“She just wanted to embrace her life. She wanted to show the world how to be transgender. She helped people. She inspired someone else named Chris to be himself.”

At the time of her death, Zella Ziona had only recently began to openly identify as a transgender woman in the past few months, which can be a very freeing experience for trans individuals, who often go their entire lives feeling as though they were born as the wrong sex.

According to CBS, relatives of Zella Ziona revealed that the victim had already encountered many difficulties in her life due to being a black trans woman.

“I just want to know why?” said her cousin Sade Thomas. “Why did you take such a beautiful, amazing soul like that and he [sic] was never the type of person to hate you or do anything to you?”

Her aunt Kalany Thomas is convinced that the murder was a hate crime.

Gawker reported that a suspect has since been arrested for the murder of the trans black woman. His name is Rico Hector Leblond.

Leblond, age 20

Argentina experienced a similar loss this month when famous trans activist Diana Sacayán was stabbed to death in her Buenos Aires apartment. Many human rights organizations have responded to the ongoing cruelty towards trans individuals by calling for harsher punishments for hate crimes and more legal protection of transgender people like Zella Ziona and Diana Sacayán. Seventeen of the 21 trans women killed this year were black women.

[Image credit: Zella Ziona, Instagram; Montgomery County Police Department]