Story at a glance

  • The bodies of two transgender women were found badly burned in a car on April 23.
  • These are the third and fourth transgender people killed in Puerto Rico this year, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
  • The women were to return home to New York later this month.

The bodies of two transgender women from New York City were found badly burned in a car in Puerto Rico. 

Police found the Hyundai Elantra, which belonged to the mother of one of the women, under a bridge on the PR-927 highway in the Mambiche Prieto neighborhood in Humacao, which is in southeast Puerto Rico, according to the Primera Hora


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They were identified by locals as 21-year-old Layla Peláez and 32-year-old Serena Angelique Velázquez from New York City. The two were visiting the island but were reportedly planning to return to the United States at the end of the month. 

Capt. Teddy Morales, the chief of criminal investigations for the Puerto Rico police in Humacao, told the New York Times that a 911 call had reported the burned car just before 5 a.m. on April 22. Investigators are looking to identify two men in images on one of the women's social media accounts who may have partied with the women at one of their homes the night before. 

Their deaths bring the total number of transgender people killed on the island to at least four this year, according to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). Local activists say eight people from the LGBTQ+ community have been killed in total this year. 

“They are hunting us,” Pedro Julio Serrano, a spokesperson for the Broad Committee for the Search for Equity, told NBC News.


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In February, a transgender woman named Alexa was shot dead after reports that she used the women’s bathroom at a McDonalds in Toa Baja, becoming the first transgender person killed on the island in 2020. On March 11, Yampi Méndez Arocho, a 19-year-old transgender man, was killed in Moca after reports of an assault. 

“First it was Alexa, then Yampi, and now Serena and Layla. Enough is Enough. Trans people deserve to live in peace, with equity, and freedom. Enough is enough of all of the hate,” Ivana Fred, an activist with the Broad Committee for the Search for Equity, told HRC

At least 26 transgender people were killed in America in 2019, although activists say the number is likely higher than reported. Between 2017 and 2018, there was a 34 percent increase in violent hate-based attacks on transgender people, according to statistics from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Nearly 9 in every 10 victims were transgender women, according to a report by the HRC.

“Transgender and gender non-conforming people, especially women of color, are too often the victims of a toxic mix of transphobia, racism and misogyny. People and policy must work together to protect our lives and our well-being. HRC stands in solidarity with all who knew and loved [Layla Peláez and Serena Angelique Velázquez],” said Tori Cooper, HRC Director of Community Engagement for the Transgender Justice Initative.


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Published on Apr 24, 2020