A transgender woman was killed in an attack on a barbershop preparing to reopen in San Antonio last week.
The victim, Helle Jae O’Regan, 20, was at Diesel Barbershop last Wednesday with two other employees, getting it ready for a planned Friday reopening, the San Antonio Current reports.
The shop was locked, but one of the employees admitted a man who said he wanted to make an appointment, according to local TV station WOAI. He stepped out for a moment, then returned with a gun and a knife, and forced the workers into the back of the shop.
Surveillance video shows him choking one of the three, later identified as O’Regan, until she passed out, the station reports. The other two employees escaped after the man stabbed one of them several times, and then he stabbed O’Regan to death, police told local media.
“Attempts were made to give the man whatever he wanted … cash, equipment, or whatever it took to get him out of the shop,” Diesel Barbershop CEO Shayne Brown wrote in a Facebook post. “The man made it clear that he wasn’t there for money. He then began asking the employees: “‘What have you done wrong? What have you done wrong? God sent me here to kill you because you have done something wrong! What have you done wrong?’ over and over again while forcing them to the back of the shop.”
Police have arrested Damion Campbell, 42, on a murder charge, according to San Antonio media. They were able to track him down because he had given his name to shop employees and they had entered it into a computer.
Friends remembered O’Regan as an upbeat, loving person. “Every time I saw her, she smiled,” friend Luke Tyler told TV station KSAT. “She’d do anything for you. She was a caring person. I never saw her in a bad mood.”
“Being trans is so hard, and her life was hard, but she lived like it was the best day of her life every day,” Tyler added. If her killer had known her, he would want “to take it all back,” he said.
On social media, O’Regan often spoke out about political issues and took pride in her trans identity, according to a Human Rights Campaign blog post. “I was looking at the pictures I used to take before I transitioned versus now and it made me realize I’m way happier than I used to be,” she posted on Instagram for Transgender Day of Visibility, March 31. “I love myself now. Thank you to everyone who’s ever supported me and to anyone who hasn’t I hope you come around. I’m happy and proud to be myself.”
It does not appear that O’Regan was targeted for being trans, police said. But her death is still part of an epidemic of violence against trans people, LGBTQ groups noted.
“We are disheartened to hear of a loss of a community member, especially a transgender woman, who are all too often faced with severe and deadly violence,” Robert Salcido Jr., executive director of Pride Center San Antonio, said in a statement, according to the Current.
“For the past several weeks, we have learned of the violent deaths of transgender Americans at a rate that should be a shock and horror to every single person. We must all ask ourselves today: ‘What am I doing to ensure a world where a person’s gender identity is not a potential death sentence?’” Tori Cooper, director of community engagement for HRC’s Transgender Justice Initiative, said in the blog post. “The Human Rights Campaign is standing with Helle’s family and friends in mourning today. Her death further underscores the dire and urgent need to end violence and discrimination against transgender — and especially against transgender women — now. ”
O’Regan is at least the 11th trans person known to have been murdered in the U.S. this year. Before her, the most recent victims were in Missouri and Puerto Rico, leading presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden to comment Sunday on Twitter.