Transgender woman found shot dead on side of road, motive unknown

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A South Carolina community is mourning the death of a 29-year-old transgender woman who was found shot to death on the side of a road.

The body of Denali Berries Stuckey was discovered in North Charleston early Saturday, according to police. Stuckey’s death was ruled a homicide, said coroner’s office officials.

“We do not have any information to lead us to the motive,” North Charleston Police Deputy Chief Scott Deckard said on Monday.

As police investigate, family friend Ron’Rico Judon reflected on Stuckey’s life, which he said she lived unapologetically and courageously.

“She was a free spirit. She was very outspoken,” Judon told ABC News. “If you didn’t like the fact that she was trans, she would give you a piece of her mind.”

Stuckey, a North Charleston native, ran a home childcare business and was a cosmetologist, Judon said.

“She was very loving,” he said. “She always smiled, always laughed. Had this beautiful smile. Loved to dance.”

Judon said he’s “devastated” and “heartbroken” by her death.

“Somebody that was deeply loved by so many was taken from us,” he said. “To have the type of love and support that Denali had, not only from friends and the community, but family, that’s rare.”

A candelight vigil will be held in North Charleston on Monday night.

Vanity Reid Deterville, a transgender activist and community organizer in Charleston, did not know Stuckey, but told ABC News, “Because she was trans and because she came from this area, I owe her a respect.”

“I recognize how hard it is just to live your truth in a very southern region of the United States,” she said. “She was a woman who walked a very difficult life in a very southern state.”

Deterville noted how Stuckey died six years shy of the average life expectancy of trans women of color — 35.

“Whether this was a random act or planned, she was a trans woman, and her life was stripped away from her,” she said.

The Human Rights Campaign has tracked at least 136 deaths of transgender people since 2013 due to fatal violence, with most victims being black transgender women, but the organization said the violence is hard to track due to misgendering and transphobia. The actual number of killings could be much higher.

Last week, police in Maryland announced an arrest in the killing of transgender woman Zoe Spears.

Spears was found shot dead on a sidewalk just before midnight on June 13, according to Prince George’s County Police.

The killing and the suspect’s van were caught on surveillance video, according to police.

A motive remains under investigation.

Gerardo Thomas, 33, of Baltimore, faces charges including first-degree murder, officials said on Thursday. Thomas’ preliminary hearing is scheduled for Aug. 19.

ABC News’ Karma Allen contributed to this report.

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