September 20, 2011 at 4:03 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Gay engineer’s death ruled a homicide

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”



Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

  • Does it seem odd/peculiar to anyone that, assuming Lou is correct in asserting that Gaurav was in a relationship and living with his partner, why Gaurav wouldn’t have shared with/the partner known about Gaurav’s “activities” the night Gaurav was in drag and then murdered? To not know the whereabouts/activities of my partner or vice-versa seems unfathomable to me. Do the police need to investigate the “partner’s” activities/whereabout the night Guarav was murdered?

  • This is indeed sad and shocking. He was one of the brightest guys I knew. How can people kill just like that.

  • “the same perpetrator” is the palpable indifference to LGBT people’s lives — and especially the lives of transgender people of color in DC. this is the ‘serial killer’ among us — the widespread dehumanization of trans people in our daily lives in this city.

    • I would be curious to know the ratio of violent crimes against ALL people as it relates to the level against transgendered people of color. I have known numerous drag queens, transvestites, cross dressers and transgendered people, both of color and caucasian. I can’t help but believe that the disproportionate ratio, as you are eluding to, is in direct corrolation to the level of risk and personal responsibility one takes with their life. Nothing bad should happen to anyone, but when leaving home as a young adult, my parents imparted on me some very wise and sage advice. “Be careful out there, it’s a rough world where you’re going.” They had no clue I was Gay, they simply recognized that everyone needs to conduct themselves with the utmost care and concern for their personal safety.

  • Guarav lived his life as a gay male, but she died as a transgender woman. It is my understanding that Guarav was experimenting with, and embracing, a transgender identity. Her death is yet another example that anyone who visibly crosses gender boundaries is at extreme risk – they do not have to be prostitutes or lawbreakers. Transgender women are murdered for essentially one reason – they exist. Guarav is our sister…she will be mourned. Tony Hunter was our brother … we still are mourning his passing. Hate is what killed them both. It must end. And the killers must be brought to FULL JUSTICE. enough really is ENOUGH.

  • DC’s LGBT residents and stakeholders should keep a critical eye on the investigatory practices of MPD and its GLLU unit. Unnecessary delay is never good for criminal investigations.

    MPD/GLLU has been pokey — with missteps on this case, too. Conflicting, confusing information about the cause of death circulated for too many days. It does appear that discovering and announcing the cause of death as a homicide has been too late. Let’s hope that the few days when Mr. Gopalan’s identity was unknown had nothing to do with the confusion and delay in announcing the cause of his death.

    MPD’s GLLU needs more focus and a full-time sergeant to handle LGBT-related crimes. GLLU also needs a fundamental understanding of, as well as a commitment to, promptly enforcing all crimes perpetrated on DC’s many LGBT residents and visitors. Sweeping hate crimes (or other crimes) against them under the rug is wholly unacceptable.

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