More than 200 people turned out for a candlelight vigil Tuesday night at the site of a Northeast Washington bus stop where transgender woman Deoni Jones, 23, was fatally stabbed on Feb. 2 while waiting for a bus.
Surrounded by family members and friends, Jones’ stepfather, Alvin Bethea, made an emotional appeal for witnesses to come forward to identify a male suspect that police believe stabbed Jones in the face about 8:15 p.m. at the bus stop at East Capitol Street and Sycamore Road, N.E.
“We suspect that the person who did this lives in this community or hangs out in this community,” Bethea said. “Help the Metropolitan Police Department out… If anybody knows anything, please contact them.”
Bethea and other family members and friends who spoke at the vigil through a bullhorn provided by a member of the police department’s Gay & Lesbian Liaison Unit described Jones as warm and considerate, saying she lifted their spirits and made them laugh.
Police said this week that a video they released last Friday showing the suspect crossing a street from a distance prompted several people to contact investigators with information that is helping the department’s Homicide Branch in its investigation of the murder.
The video, which has been posted on YouTube, doesn’t clearly show the suspect’s face. But police said they were hopeful that someone who knows the person in question would recognize him in the video and reveal his identity to police homicide investigators.
In an interview with the Blade on the day police released the video, Lt. Robert Adler of the Homicide Branch described the suspect as a black male, 30 to 40 years old, about five-feet-nine to six-feet tall, with a medium build and medium complexion and sporting a beard.
“At the time of the incident the person was wearing a black jacket with a grey hooded sweatshirt underneath it and a pair of what we believe is jeans,” Adler said.
He said investigators obtained the description of the suspect “from a variety of different sources.”
Asked whether evidence exists to indicate the killing was a hate crime, Adler said, “At this time we are still investigating if it is or is not a hate crime. And as the investigation proceeds we should probably get a better idea of whether that was a factor in the assault.”
Police issued a statement on Feb. 3 saying a citizen flagged down a Metro transit police officer about 8:15 p.m. on Feb. 2 to report an assault at a bus stop on the 4900 block of East Capitol Street, N.E.
“Upon arrival, the officer located a transgender female who was unconscious and unresponsive suffering from a stab wound,” the statement said. “Units from the Sixth District and D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services personnel responded to the scene. The victim was transported to a local hospital and admitted in critical condition,” the statement said.
“On Friday, Feb. 3, 2012, at 2:35 a.m., the victim was pronounced dead,” the statement said.
Adler said Jones had no identification in her possession when police found her unconscious at the bus stop. He said investigators later identified her through finger prints.
The D.C. Trans Coalition released a statement on Feb. 3 saying it had learned through its own sources that a third person was at the bus stop when the stabbing took place and chased after the attacker. The statement said the attacker escaped when the witness realized that Jones was in need of immediate medical attention and abandoned his pursuit of the attacker.
Among those speaking at the vigil on Tuesday were Jeffrey Richardson, director of Mayor Vincent Gray’s Office of GLBT Affairs; Earline Budd and Brian Watson, officials with the D.C. transgender advocacy and services organization Transgender Health Empowerment; Cyndee Clay, executive director of the local group HIPS, which provides social services to transgender people; Officer Justin Markiewicz of the GLLU; and Ron Moten, co-founder of the D.C. youth anti-violence group Peaceoholics.
Jones’ mother, Jaquander Jones, and sister Judean Jones told the gathering they were devastated over the murder and were struggling over why someone would take the life of their loved one.
Moten urged possible witnesses to Jones’ murder to disregard what he called a reluctance by many city youth to turn in violent criminals out of fear of being labeled a “snitcher.”
“Somebody saw what happened,” he said. “And let me tell you something. There’s a difference between snitching and citizenship. Snitching is when you commit a crime with somebody and then you tell on them so you can get off,” he said.
“Citizenship is when you protect and serve your community and you fight for people like Deoni who lived a good life, who helped people, who made people smile every day,” he told the gathering.
One male friend of Jones,’ who didn’t identify himself at the vigil, described her as one of his closest friends and said her death has been devastating for him.
“This is a person who I hung out with like every day,” he said. “I watched this girl graduate. I helped her with her homework. I watched her grow from JaParker to Deoni, and that was a big step for her,” he said.
“If you’re going to do that you have to be a brave person,” the friend said. “She said she was ready. And that’s what she did, she just transformed. She was so beautiful.”
Some at the vigil, such as Bethea, referred to Deoni by her birth name of JaParker or by her nickname Logan. All who spoke said they loved and respected her for who she was.
In his emotional appeal for witnesses to come forward, Bethea described how he interacted with Jones at their home minutes before her death.
“I was sitting in the house just surfing the Internet on the laptop when JaParker asked to check the bus schedule to see what time the bus was going to arrive at this stop here,” he said. “I turned the laptop so he could check it. He checked it and walked out the door to hang out with one of the friends that he grew up with,” Bethea said.
“Ever since JaParker came into my life about 18 years ago he brought nothing but joy,” he said. “That’s all he ever did.”
In speculating on why the suspect attacked Jones, Bethea said he was certain that Jones would not have started a confrontation.
“I don’t know exactly whether they exchanged words or what but JaParker didn’t have a violent bone in his body,” he said. “And he was just confronted by the devil. He was simply sitting at this bus stop. That’s all.”
Police are offering a reward of up to $25,000 to anyone providing information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons wanted for any homicide committee in D.C., police said in a statement.
Anyone with information is asked to call police at 202-272-9099. Anonymous information can be submitted to the department’s “TEXT TIP LINE” by text messaging 50411, the police statement says.