A national outcry has followed news that on Saturday morning, Mollie Judith Olgin, 19, and Mary Christine Chapa, 18, were found in a Corpus Christi area park with gunshots to the head, according to Portland, Texas police. Olgin was declared dead at the scene, while Chapa is in stable condition.
Friends described the pair as a couple, and say they had been dating for five months before the shooting occurred, fueling speculation that hate may have been a motivating factor behind the crime, according to the Dallas Voice.
However, due to the nature of Chapa’s injuries, police have yet to interview the only witness to the crime, and without a suspect, cannot attribute a motive.
“Information from family and friends indicates that Mollie and Mary were engaged in a same-sex relationship,” Portland Police Chief Randy Wright wrote in a press release Tuesday night. “However, there is no current evidence to indicate the attacks were motivated by that relationship.”
Wright did not return calls regarding the investigation.
“We’re at a point in the investigation where we’re hopeful for the recovery of Mary Christine Chapa because she’s going to be the primary witness at this point in time,” Chuck Smith, deputy executive director of Equality Texas, told the Washington Blade. He noted the group is staying in touch with the Justice Department and the FBI as the investigation unfolds.
“I think the general reaction, both in the Portland area as well as in the larger community is one of shock,” Smith told the Blade. “Portland is a small town, they haven’t had a murder in two years, so it is certainly unusual for the city of Portland to have a violent crime like this. It is also unusual fortunately, to have this type of crime anywhere in the state that’s this violent in nature.”
“They apparently do not have evidence either way whether or not the crime was motivated by bias,” Smith added. “The surviving victim is going to be an important part of helping solve that investigation.”
Smith encouraged anyone with information about the incident to contact the Portland Police Department.
Vigils were planned to call attention to the shooting in San Francisco on Wednesday, as well as planned observances Friday in Portland, where the shooting took place, and Washington, D.C, at 6:00 p.m. at Dupont Circle.
“Whether or not it was a hate crime, it was a crime against humanity and for that reason alone we must stand up as a human family and support all who are in mourning,” said Michael Diviesti, Texas co-state lead organizer for grassroots LGBT group GetEQUAL, in a statement. “When something like this happens to one of us, it happens to all of us.”
GetEqual is maintaining a hub for information regarding the many local vigils being planned at a portal located at getequaltx.org/vigil.
“[The vigil] was initiated by friends of the victims, but it has quickly grown to be of interest to advocacy organizations and advocacy groups all across the state, and I think that is particularly important in terms of the coastal area that includes Corpus Christi, because historically it’s not been an easy place for LGBT people to organize in some respects because people don’t have the level of self-safety in order to be out and open,” Equality Texas’s Smith told the Blade of the Portland vigil, saying the organization will participate and observe, but is not organizing the event. “There is some level of trepidation in that area in terms of being out all the time.”
“I’m pleased to see that it motivates people to speak up,” Smith continued. “I would like to see people be involved all the time, not just when horrendous crimes like this occur. If it is violence against LGBT people that motivates people to wake up and recognize that they can’t just sit on the sidelines and expect other people to work and advance our movement, then on some levels it’s a good thing.”
According to Portland police, a spent shell casing from a handgun matching the bullets that killed Olgin was found at the scene, indicating, according to the release, the shooting occurred at the scene.
The news comes at a time when the Texas LGBT community — particularly along the Gulf Coast — continues to face hostility.
Last year in Corpus Christi, the ACLU intervened on behalf of students after the Flour Bluff Independent School District denied the students’ request to form a gay-straight alliance at the school and school administrators attempted to shut down all extracurricular activities rather than let the GSA form. The school board intervened and the clubs were again allowed in the school, including the GSA.
The news also comes the same week the Texas Republican Party published an anti-gay party platform, writing, in part, “We affirm that the practice of homosexuality tears at the fabric of society and contributes to the breakdown of the family unit. Homosexual behavior is contrary to the fundamental, unchanging truths that have been ordained by God, recognized by our country’s founders, and shared by the majority of Texans. Homosexuality must not be presented as an acceptable ‘alternative’ lifestyle, in public policy, nor should ‘family’ be redefined to include homosexual ‘couples.’ We believe there should be no granting of special legal entitlements or creation of special status for homosexual behavior, regardless of state of origin. Additionally, we oppose any criminal or civil penalties against those who oppose homosexuality out of faith, conviction or belief in traditional values.”
The platform also calls for the passage of the Federal Marriage Amendment, the repeal of any domestic partnership or civil union legislation anywhere in the country, and states its opposition to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
According to Smith, Equality Texas does not operate a specific statewide hate crime reporting mechanism where Texans can seek assistance in dealing with a case of anti-LGBT bias crime or discrimination.
“It’s sort of more done on the local level,” Smith said, saying that while Equality participates in community-based hate crime task forces, and some police departments have hate crime liaisons, the system is a “hodge podge” that causes problems throughout Texas. “While we do have a statewide hate crimes law, it has not been adequately implemented. Law enforcement has not had the level of training that one would need or expect to have in order for law enforcement jurisdictions across the state to adequately enforce and use the law.”