Their murders are believed to be the seventh and eighth murders of trans or gender non-conforming people in the United States this year.
The bodies of two trans women, Layla Pelaez Sánchez, 21, and Serena Angelique Velázquez Ramos, 32, have been discovered in a burnt-out car in the coastal town of Humacoa, in Puerto Rico. The car was discovered on Wednesday (22 April).
In a statement, Tori Cooper, the Director of Community Engagement for the Transgender Justice Initiative for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), said: “HRC is mourning alongside the loved ones of Serena and Layla, the people of Puerto Rico and the entire transgender community.
“Serena and Layla, like us all, had family, dreams, hopes — and they did not deserve to die.
“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 them.”
The HRC reports that Layla had recently moved there and was living in the Tejas neighborhood in Las Piedras. In another report, they wrote that Serena had been visiting on holiday, and was due to travel back to New York at the end of the month.
The bodies have yet to formally named by the police, but local advocacy groups confirmed that the women were the bodies in the car. Speaking to NBC, Pedro Julio Serrano, a spokesperson for the Broad Committee for the Search of Equity said: “They are hunting us.”
Ivana Fred, from the same group, added: “We trans people deserve to live in peace, equality and freedom. Enough of so much hate.”
Speaking to CBS, Francheska Alvarado, the sister of Serena, said she found about her death from a phone call. “I was in complete shock and disbelief because my sister was a great person,” she said.
“She was never in the streets. She was just herself.”
Francheska added that her sister would be remembered for “her courage and determination to pursue her dreams and personal desires” and that she had a “strong soul.”
She continued, saying: “We don’t have details and I want to know what happened to my sister because justice has to be served.
“This cannot continue to happen in Puerto Rico, where people are just killing others because they are not in acceptance with LGBTQ community and other people who are different.”
She then called on the police to investigate an alleged SnapChat video which showed her sister, the other victim, and two men lying on a bed, hours before the women were found murdered.
As mentioned earlier in the article, Layla and Serena are believed to be the seventh and eighth trans or gender non-conforming individuals to be murdered this year in the US, but they’re the fourth to be killed in Puerto Rico this year.
In February, a homeless trans woman, Neulisa Luciano Ruiz, known as Alexa, was killed in a park in Toa Baja. Alexa was reportedly killed nine hours after the accusations about her “peeping on people” in a public bathroom were made, these accusations were dismissed as untrue, and local news outlets reported that her murder was captured on video and shared on social media.
Less than a month after Neulisa’s murder, a 19-year-old trans man, Yampi Méndez Arocho, was shot to death, with two gunshot wounds in the face and two in the back. Yampi’s mother said he was assaulted by a woman five hours before he was murdered.