Less than a week into 2017, the United States has already seen its first reported murder of a transgender person. Police found the body of hair and makeup artist Mesha Caldwell, 41, shot near a road Wednesday afternoon in Madison County, Mississippi, according to WJTV. Authorities were investigating the incident as a homicide.
"There is nothing on Earth that can help me understand why anyone on Earth would take another person’s life," Caldwell's friend Johnny Jenkins told the news station.
Caldwell, born Omario Caldwell, was widely thought to be the first transgender American to be killed in the new year. Her death could indicate the recent trend of violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people may continue in 2017, according to a Human Rights Campaign news release published Thursday.
Over the past four years, more than 70 transgender Americans have been murdered — 21 of them in 2016 alone, NBC News reported. More than 80 percent of last year's victims were transgender women, and 95 percent were people of color.
Caldwell was both, according to Mic.
"Violence against transgender people — particularly transgender women of color — remains an urgent, heartbreaking crisis," Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin said in a November statement. "This epidemic of violence serves as a powerful reminder that lives literally depend on each and every one of us to stand up against hate and violence wherever it occurs."
LGBT rights advocates joined Caldwell's loved ones in mourning the beautician as news of her death spread. Photos of her flooded social media websites Thursday alongside hashtags with her name and #BlackLivesMatter.
"She was a happy person that loved everyone and never met a stranger," Evonne Kaho, an activist and former roommate of Caldwell's, told the Clarion-Ledger. "For me as a black transgender woman and the leader of the community, it’s a very hard pill to swallow."