The D.C. Medical Examiner disclosed on Tuesday that gay engineer Gaurav Gopalan, who was found dead Sept. 10 on a sidewalk in Columbia Heights at 5:20 a.m., died of blunt force trauma to the head and that the death has been ruled a homicide.
News that Gopalan’s death was due to an act of violence came after D.C. police initially announced there were no obvious signs of injuries on Gopalan’s body and that a final determination on the death would have to wait for results of toxicological tests.
Gopalan, a native of India, was found dead on the 2600 block of 11th Street, N.W. in a location less than two blocks from where he lived. He was dressed in women’s clothes with some facial makeup, prompting police to initially describe him as a transgender woman.
With no identification on him, it took police three days to track down his identity following the release of a post mortem photo taken by the Medical Examiner’s office.
It could not be immediately determined why the Medical Examiner’s office didn’t disclose last week its findings released today that Gopalan suffered a “subarachnoid hemorrhage,” or internal head bleeding, due to “blunt impact head trauma.”
Beverly Fields, a spokesperson for the Medical Examiner’s Office, said the latest findings were based on the autopsy conducted last week.
Bob Shaeffer, Gopalan’s partner, told the Blade Monday that he didn’t know where Gopalan had been on the night before his death but said police told him they obtained video footage of Gopalan near the corner of Florida Avenue and U Street, N.W. The gay nightclub Town and the gay sports bar Nellie’s are located in that area.
Police last week said they had contacted the management of several gay clubs in the city to ask whether Gopalan had been seen in the clubs in the hours prior to his death. At a news conference last week, Homicide Branch Capt. Michael Farish said representatives of the clubs weren’t certain whether Gopalan had visited the clubs.
Gopalan received a doctorate degree in aeronautical engineering at the University of Maryland and later worked with the university on research projects related to sound suppression of helicopter rotor blades, a technology deemed important for U.S. military applications.
Officials with the University of Maryland’s school of engineering and D.C.’s South Asian LGBT group Khush D.C., to which Gopalan had ties, this week continued to mourn Gopalan’s death.
He also served as president of the Fred Schmitz Group, an aeronautical engineering consulting firm, which he operated out of the home that he and Shaeffer shared in Columbia Heights.
Rehan Rizvi, a member of Khush D.C., said Gopalan attended a number of the group’s events during the past few years.
Rizvi said Khush D.C. planned to coordinate a possible memorial service for Gopalan with the University of Maryland’s engineering school, which was expected to host a memorial at the campus.
People who knew Gopalan said he also served as an assistant director and stage manager for Shakespeare plays produced by a the WSC Avant Bard theater group formerly known as the Washington Shakespeare Company.
The ruling of his death as a homicide is certain to further alarm LGBT activists. Gopalan’s death followed shootings and an attempted shooting of at least five transgender women since July. One of the women, Lashai Mclean, 23, was shot to death on July 20th on the 6100 block of Dix Street, N.E.
Police have said they have no evidence so far to indicate any of the incidents are linked to the same perpetrator.
Gay D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who represents the area where Gopalan lived and died, said he is closely monitoring the police investigation.
“Now our determination must be to get the killer because somebody killed this fine young man who had such a great life and was loved by so many people,” he said. “We have got to get this killer”