A recent rash of shootings — and the mysterious death of a man dressed in women’s clothes — has the transgender community on edge, with at least one activist describing the situation as a “crisis.”
In the most recent incident, detectives with the D.C. police Homicide Branch have identified a man found dead early Saturday morning, Sept. 10, on the 2600 block of 11th Street, N.W. that investigators initially believed to be a transgender person.
Police on Tuesday identified the male decedent as 35-year-old Gaurav Gopalan of Northwest Washington but provided no further details about him. Gopalan worked as an aerospace engineer.
“The investigation is ongoing and the cause and manner of death are undetermined at this time,” police said in a news release.
The identification came one day after police released a photo of the then unidentified male taken by the city’s Medical Examiner’s office.
Police said he was dressed in women’s clothes, wearing some facial makeup, and carrying high heels at the time police arrived on the scene and found him unconscious on the sidewalk. A source familiar with the case said he was found in front of 2618 11th Street, N.W.
Assistant Police Chief Peter Newsham told reporters at a news conference Monday afternoon that preliminary autopsy findings showed no obvious signs of injuries or trauma on the decedent. He said a final determination of whether the death was a homicide or due to natural causes would have to wait for completion of toxicological tests by the Medical Examiner.
Transgender activists who viewed the photo said they believed the person may have been a man dressed in drag, possibly a gay man, rather than someone interested in changing his gender from male to female.
Anyone with information about the case is asked to contact Det. William Covington at 202-727-9600 or the police Command Information Center at 202-727-9009.
Gopalan’s personal website lists him as president of The Fred Schmitz Group, an aeronautical engineering company based in his home at 2725 13th St., N.W., which is less than two blocks from where his body was found.
According to the website, he received his Ph.D. in aerospace engineering from the University of Maryland, College Park in 2004. Gopalan is listed as the company’s only employee. The company lists as its areas of expertise “aeronautical acoustics, runway-independent aircraft, air traffic management,” and “rotor dynamics & aerodynamics.”
The type of “rotor” technology Gopalan has worked on is believed to have been used to suppress the noise of helicopters similar to the ones used in the U.S. Navy Seals operation that led to the capture and death of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan earlier this year.
D.C. police spokesperson Gwendolyn Crump said police were in contact with the Embassy of Nepal to establish contact with Gopalan’s family members who live in the South Asian country.
Shiva Subbaraman, director of Georgetown University’s LGBTQ Resource Center, said she has known Gopalan for many years through mutual friends in the South Asian community.
“I am in shock at this,” she said.
In another case, D.C. police arrested a 20-year-old man on a charge of assault with intent to kill for the shooting on Monday of a transgender woman in the 2300 block of Savannah Street, S.E.
Police said Darryl Willard of Northeast Washington surrendered on Tuesday at First District Police Headquarters and was charged in connection with an arrest warrant obtained by police, who said the victim knew Willard.
The victim, whom police have not identified, suffered a non-fatal gunshot wound to the neck about 2 a.m. Monday at the Savannah Street location and showed up at the Seventh District Police Headquarters to report the incident, police said. She was rushed to a nearby hospital and was in stable condition.
The incident was the fourth reported shooting of a transgender person in D.C. since July. The latest case prompted police officials to call a news conference Monday afternoon to discuss this and other transgender-related cases.
Transgender activists Earline Budd and Ruby Corado, who spoke at the news conference, said the latest shooting was among more than a dozen violent attacks against transgender women in D.C. this year.
“The transgender community is now in crisis,” Corado said.
That incident came after police arrested a suspect in a separate case on Sept. 10 in which the suspect, whom police have not identified, allegedly threatened three transgender women with a gun on the 4000 block of Minnesota Ave., S.E. None of the victims were injured. Police listed the incident as an anti-transgender hate crime.
D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who represents the area where the unidentified person’s body was found, said his office is closely monitoring the case. Graham, who is gay, said he is troubled over the large number of crimes against transgender women in the city in recent months.
Capt. Edward Delgado, director of the police Special Liaison Division, was the first to disclose the shooting of the trans woman on Savannah Street, S.E., on Monday in an early morning e-mail to LGBT activists.
“This morning a member of the transgender community walked into the Seventh District Station to report that she sustained a gunshot wound to the neck,” said Delgado, whose division oversees the department’s Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit.
“The female was transported to a local hospital and is in stable condition. The Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit responded to the scene to aid the detectives in their investigation in hope to bring this case to closure,” he said.
The incident came less than two months after 23-year-old Lashai Mclean, a transgender woman, was shot to death shortly before 5 a.m. on July 20 on the 6100 block of Dix Street, N.E.
According to police, a transgender woman who was with Mclean at the time of the shooting told investigators two men approached Mclean and asked her a question. Before Mclean could answer them one of the two men fatally shot Mclean with a semiautomatic handgun, police said. The case remains unsolved.
Eleven days later, on July 31, an unidentified male suspect fired a handgun at a transgender woman along the 6200 block of Dix Street, N.E., just one block from where Mclean was shot. The shot missed hitting the victim, police said.
In a statement following the second shooting, police said they were looking into the possibility of a “potential emerging pattern” between the two incidents. No suspects have been identified in the case.
At Monday’s news conference, D.C. Police Homicide Branch Capt. Michael Farish said police chose not to release a composite drawing of the unknown suspect who shot Mclean because the witness was unable to provide enough details about the suspect’s appearance.
In a separate incident on Aug. 26, an off-duty D.C. police officer was arrested on a charge of assault with a dangerous weapon for allegedly firing his approved off-duty service revolver at three transgender women and two male friends who were sitting in a car in Northwest Washington.
Two of the transgender women and one of the male friends suffered non-life threatening gunshot wounds in the incident. The victims told police the incident began when words were exchanged between one of the male friends and 21-year veteran D.C. police Officer Kenneth Furr after Furr allegedly propositioned one of the trans women for sex inside a CVS drugstore about 4:40 a.m. that morning.
Transgender activists who know the victims said one of the transgender women involved in the case said Furr became angry when she turned down his request that the two have a sexual encounter.
During Monday’s police news conference, Budd and Corado said they were pleased with the response to the latest cases by police officials but expressed concern that at least some rank and file officers continue to show a bias against members of the LGBT community, especially against transgender women.