More than 200 people turned out Sunday night in Dupont Circle for a candle light vigil in honor of Gaurav Gopalan, a 35-year-old gay aerospace engineer and theater director who was found dead Sept. 10 on a sidewalk near where he lived in the city’s Columbia Heights section.
Police have ruled the death a homicide and said Gopalan died from blunt force trauma to the head. Police say they have no suspects and no known motive for the murder.
Transgender activists have expressed concern that Gopalan might have been targeted for his gender identity because he was found dressed in women’s clothes and wearing facial makeup.
Nearly a dozen friends and community activists spoke at the vigil, with most reading excerpts from Shakespeare plays and sonnets to pay tribute to what they said was Gopalan’ love of Shakespeare’s works.
Many of the friends said they met Gopalan through various theater companies and groups, and worked with him on productions of Shakespeare plays, where he served as an assistant director.
“Gaurav touched so many souls in D.C.,” said Jason McCool, who collaborated with Gopalan on the production of Shakespeare plays. “He was a bright ray of positive energy and I will never, ever forget what he contributed to my life. To me, his spirit will remain forever alive and present.”
Gopalan’s partner, Bob Shaeffer, thanked organizers of the vigil and those who attended for their support of him during a trying time.
“This would have pleased Gaurav,” he said. “Gaurav changed my life. There wasn’t a day we were together that we didn’t say we loved each other.”
Shaeffer called on the community to apply pressure on D.C. police to “do more” to find out who killed his partner and bring that person to justice.
Other speakers included D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who represents the Columbia Heights neighborhood where Gopalan was found dead; transgender activist Earline Budd; Shiva Subbaraman, director of Georgetown University’s LGBTQ Resource Center and a friend of Gopalan’s; and a representative of the South Asian LGBT group Khush D.C., who didn’t identify himself. McCool read a letter from D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Homes Norton praising Gopalan for his contribution to D.C. both as an aerospace engineer and a theater director.
“We are determined to get to the bottom of this,” Graham told the gathering. “We are determined to bring this killer to justice and to support everyone in the District of Columbia affected by this.”
At the conclusion of the vigil, participants marched from Dupont Circle to Columbia Heights, where they gathered on the 2600 block of 11th Street, N.W., at the site where Gopalan was found unconscious shortly after 5 a.m. on Sept. 10.
The site is marked by a large photo of Gopalan that friends attached to a tree and by flowers placed at the foot of the tree. Virgil participants, who had walked more than two miles from Dupont Circle, placed lit candles next to the flowers, creating a glowing memorial on the sidewalk.
With the candles flickering before him, McCool read from a theater program note that Gopalan wrote in connection with one of the Shakespeare plays that Gopalan played a role in producing in the D.C. area:
“There is no judgment…only light and dark, only truth and ignorance,” McCool quoted Gopalan as saying. “What is true is good; evil is quite simply ignorance.”