Remembering Victims of Hate Crimes
On Jan. 6, 2001, Terrianne Summers made a splash in The Florida Times-Union. Summers was pictured leading a protest at Winn-Dixie headquarters in Jacksonville. The company had fired a truck driver who told his supervisor that he occasionally cross-dressed during off hours.
Times-Union readers saw the 51-year-old Summers holding high a poster that shouted in big block letters: "TRANSGENDER PEOPLE HAVE RIGHTS TOO."
By December, the truck driver's lawsuit against Winn-Dixie hadn't been resolved. Summers was organizing another January protest when she was shot to death in the driveway of her Jacksonville home.
At first, Jacksonville police tagged it as a robbery attempt. Apparently, though, none of Summers' possessions had been taken or even disturbed. Even so, Lt. Rick Graham said the murder was not being investigated as a hate crime. No arrests had been made at press time.
Gay and transgender activists called for a hate-crime investigation, both because of Summers' high profile as an activist and because transgender people are frequent targets of hate crimes — not to mention the fact that Summers' killing looked more like an assassination than some brutal chance encounter.
One thing seems certain: If another transgender person had died the way she did, Summers would not have kept quiet.
Summers lived most of her life as a man named Gary, and only began to identify openly as a woman after a 22-year stint in the Navy.
But it didn't take her long to become what one friend calls "an activist's activist," heading up Jacksonville's transgender coalition and inspiring others to be open about their lives.
"She showed tremendous courage to be out and active," said her friend Jessica Archer, especially "in a part of the state where transgender people are generally afraid of being visible."
Friends and family members, including Summers' partner and two children, are left to wonder whether that visibility might have cost Summers her life.
Eric Valdez, 19
Grand Junction, Colo.
On July 6, Judith Richmond telephoned her fiancé, 19-year-old Sjon Elmgreen, from a Grand Junction grocery store. According to police reports, Richmond told Elmgreen that she and her friend, Sarah Santarelli, were being bothered by a couple of "beaners" — a derogatory term for Hispanics.
The call set in motion a confrontation that would soon leave another 19-year-old, Eric Valdez, dead.
Santarelli later told police that she thought Richmond was overreacting to Valdez and his friend, who "were not being rude or threatening but were just flirting."
According to Santarelli, Elmgreen arrived soon after Richmond's call with his roommate — and a fixed-blade, seven-inch knife. They found Valdez, now with two friends, down the street.
Santarelli said she watched Elmgreen approach Valdez and start yelling, calling him a "fucking Spic and a fucking beaner." She said Elmgreen walked away, then circled back when he heard one of the Hispanic teenagers say something.
That's apparently when a fight broke out that left Valdez on the ground, bleeding from the chest. After turning himself in hours later, Elmgreen told police that after stabbing Valdez he rolled him over, removed the knife and fled on foot.
Witnesses said Elmgreen hollered more racial epithets as he stood over Valdez's bleeding body.
Less than an hour after the stabbing, Valdez was pronounced dead at a local hospital. Elmgreen was scheduled to stand trial this spring for second-degree murder and "ethnic intimidation" — Colorado's term for a hate crime. If he is convicted, the bias charge could add as many as six years to Elmgreen's sentence.
Juana Vega, 36
On the night of Nov. 10, Juana Vega had good news for her best friend, Carmen Murguia. "I'm out," she told Murguia. "I'm finally free."
Murguia knew what she meant: Vega had broken off her turbulent relationship with Melodia Parrilla. In the process, she believed she had gotten free of her girlfriend's 25-year-old brother, Pablo, who had allegedly been threatening Vega for months.
Friends and family members said Pablo Parrilla had taunted Vega with anti-gay epithets since she began dating his sister in the summer of 2000.
"He always said that he'd never let someone turn his sister gay," said Vega's brother, Marco. "He couldn't accept that."
In September, Vega had called the police, reporting that Parrilla fired a gunshot at her outside the apartment she and Melodia Parrilla were sharing.
Pablo Parrilla was on parole at the time after being convicted of beating his sister, and was wanted for parole violations because he had not completed a required Batterers Anonymous course.
Only hours after she told Murguia she was "free," Vega apparently ended up in a fight with Melodia Parrilla at their apartment. When things "turned physical," according to police reports, Parrilla left for her mother's house. Vega followed.
She was in the yard outside the Parrillas' home when Pablo came out to confront her. He allegedly shot her five times, but did not stop there.
According to a police report, "He stated he was still mad ... so after firing the shots he started to hit Juana with the gun and kick her all over the head and body."
Hours later, a passerby saw Vega's dead body under a tree in the Parrillas' yard and called police.
Pablo Parrilla was charged with first-degree murder. But even though Wisconsin is one of 23 states with hate-crime laws including sexual orientation, he faced no bias charges as the Intelligence Report went to press.
That has incensed gay activists and officials across the country, including U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, who have called for Milwaukee police to fully investigate the hate-crime angle.
Martin Ornelas-Quintero, executive director of the National Latina/o Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Organization, joined others in protesting the lack of a hate-crime charge.
Vega's death, he said, was no "drive-by shooting," but "a vicious murder where the message of hate comes through."