April 27, 2015 at 10:48 am EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Housemate charged in murder of lesbian student on ‘Day of Silence’ 
Steven Vander Briel, murder, gay news, Washington Blade

Steven Vander Briel, 30, is charged with first-degree murder and abduction in connection with the death of Grace Rebecca Mann. (Photo courtesy Fredericksburg PD)

The New York-based Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network expressed condolences to the family and friends of a lesbian activist and student who was murdered on April 17 in her off-campus home near the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Va.

Grace Rebecca Mann, 20, was found strangled shortly after she participated in an annual international event on campus created over a decade ago by GLSEN called Day of Silence. The event is aimed at drawing attention to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment at schools and colleges.

Fredericksburg police have charged one of Mann’s three housemates, Steven Vander Briel, 30, with first-degree murder and abduction in connection with her death. Neither police nor the Office of the Rappahannock County Commonwealth’s Attorney has disclosed whether they have determined a motive for the murder.

“The death of Grace Mann is an unspeakable tragedy and our thoughts go out to her family and friends,” said GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard in a statement to the Washington Blade.

“Ms. Mann was a passionate voice calling for an end to the bullying of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and had participated in GLSEN’s Day of Silence just before her death,” Byard said in her statement. “Her leadership within the LGBT community and in feminist and political circles will be missed.”

Police said Mann’s two female housemates found her unconscious and bound in her bedroom after arriving at the home about 3 p.m. on April 17. The Office of the chief Medical Examiner ruled that Mann died of asphyxia by strangulation. Vander Briel was apprehended about two hours later following a manhunt that involved dogs and about 20 police officers, a police spokesperson said.

Several hundred people turned out on April 24, for a memorial service for Mann on the University of Mary Washington campus, where she was praised by family members, friends and university officials as a feminist committed to social justice causes, including LGBT rights.

Among those attending the memorial were Mann’s father, Thomas P. Mann, a Fairfax County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court judge, and her mother, Melissa Mann.

The Washington Post reported that Mann, a junior and native of Falls Church, Va., served on the university’s Student Senate, was a board member of the group Feminists United, an appointee to the school’s sexual assault task force, and a member of the campus LGBT group PRISM (People for the Rights of Individuals of Sexual Minorities).

Fredericksburg police said friends of Mann reported she had no personal relationship with Vander Briel and they were unaware of any animosity between the two. Vander Briel, who’s being held without bond, is scheduled to appear in court on May 19 for a preliminary hearing.

“Many questions remain about what happened on April 17,” Byard of GLSEN said in her statement. “However, there is no doubt that Ms. Mann leaves a powerful legacy, having touched the lives of those around her and stood up for the thousands of students each day who face bullying and harassment in school.”

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

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