HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Community members gathered Thursday evening for a vigil in honor of a transgender woman who was killed on July 29. Investigators said Marisela Castro, 39, was shot and killed during the early morning hours around Wood Shadows Drive near the East Freeway. HPD is still looking for two suspects and they don't know the motive behind her murder.
Elia Chino woke up to the devastating news via text message the morning after it happened. Chino is the executive director of Fundación Latinoamericana De Acción Social (FLAS), a Spanish-speaking nonprofit organization advocating for Houston's transgender community.
"It's very heavy. I was in shock and really sad at first. I thought it couldn't be happening again. Then I was angry. All the emotions, you know? Because I was thinking, 'Who will be the next one?'" she said.
Houston police said Castro was driving her car with two other people inside at about 1:45 a.m. Investigators said she and a man got out of the car before he shot her from behind, got back in the car, and took off. Her car was later found abandoned two blocks away on a dead-end street.
READ ALSO: 2 people wanted in deadly shooting of transgender woman in east Houston neighborhood
According to the Houston Chronicle, Castro was a Honduran immigrant who spent most of her life in North Carolina. She moved to Houston several years ago to be closer to family. Her friend, Jorge Luis Lizardo, described her as someone with a "bright and sunny demeanor" and "had no enemies." He told ABC13 that she would've celebrated her 40th birthday on Aug. 22.
ABC13 asked Officer Josephine Jones, who is HPD's liaison for the LGBTQIA+ community, if this may have been a hate crime.
"I don't want to say hate crime or not. This is a pending, fresh investigation. So we don't want to put out misinformation. Our Houston Police Department is working diligently to look into all leads. We want to bring closure to her family," Jones said.
Even though they don't know if the motive was related to Castro's gender identity, advocates said the case still leaves the transgender community on edge, given all the attacks they've faced during our current political climate.
According to FLAS, there have been at least four transgender women violently killed in our area in the past year. Paloma Vazquez was murdered on Feb. 26, Za'Niyah Williams on Jan. 6, and Martina Caldera on Dec. 6, 2021. Nationwide, the Human Rights Campaign there have been at least 23 transgender people killed. They said "at least," because historically, these cases have gone underreported due to a lack of reporting or misreporting.
"It's scary. We're hoping we can shine a light on transgender issues and the fact that they don't feel safe. As the liaison, I can say that. My role is to listen to them and be that voice for them. Some of my own transgender friends don't feel safe. I can assure you that we care and we want everyone to be able to live in Houston comfortably," Jones said.
READ ALSO: Transgender woman killed in Houston apartment fled violence in Latin America, friends say
Chino said they decided to hold Thursday's vigil in front of HPD headquarters to send a message to city leaders, urging them to better protect the transgender community. She said the event also serves as a space for healing and support.
"This cannot continue anymore. Nobody has the right to take the life of any human being. We are tired. We are angry. We are sad and we are here. I want to let the trans community know that they are not alone, that we have allies and we are continuing to fight so we can have protection," Chino said.
If you have any information about Castro's case, you're asked to contact Crime Stoppers at (713) 222-TIPS. Officer Jones encourages anyone in the transgender community victimized by a crime to file a report. She said community members are also welcome to reach out to her or their resource officer at the Montrose Center for assistance.
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