Among dozens of activists at a Thursday night vigil in Fresno’s Tower District, there was no question about whether the victim in last week’s shooting was transgender.
Casey, or K.c., Haggard died after being stabbed in the neck July 23 by a man in an SUV. Haggard was walking alone at night in a knee-length dress and white cardigan with shoulder-length hair.
Haggard’s gender identity became a cause of conflict as the story made its way around the world. Fresno police drew criticism for referring to Haggard as a man, citing a driver’s license that identified Haggard as Kenton Craig Haggard. Transgender advocates say Haggard had recently started transitioning from male to female.
Haggard, 66, had not come out as such to family and friends. Trans advocates say Haggard recently created a female Facebook page as K.c. Haggard. Members of the local transgender group Trans-E-Motion said Haggard signed in to group meetings as Casey.
Zoyer Zyndel, a transgender activist, said he gave Haggard a ride to a meeting and saw her the Saturday before she was killed. He recited a poem for her at the vigil.
“Dear Casey, I want you to know your life was not in vain,” he said. “The political outcry, the outrage, we remember your pain.”
Thursday night, dozens of advocates started at the Fresno LGBT Community Center and marched through the Tower District. Many wore red to signify violence against transgender people throughout the country.
It should have been a happy, great time for her. Instead this horrible thing happened.
Emily Gilpin, who attended a vigil for Kenton Craig Haggard, who went by Casey, or K.c.
Advocates say Haggard is the 11th transgender woman killed this year nationally. Trans people are at high risk of suicide and many suffer rejection by family and friends, discrimination, victimization, violence or death, says the Williams Institute, a think tank at the UCLA School of Law that specializes in sexual orientation and gender identity law and policy.
Emily Gilpin, 27, dressed in a red, frizzy wig and white face makeup with red tears drawn flowing down her eyes. She said she wanted to give tribute to those who are forced to live double lives and hide who they really are.
Gilpin said slayings like that of Haggard make other LGBT people hesitant to come out.
“It should have been a happy, great time for her,” she said. “Instead this horrible thing happened.”
Haggard was stabbed to death about 2 a.m. July 23 while walking near Blackstone and Cornell avenues in central Fresno. A silver Saturn SUV with a moonroof and Bondo on its right side pulled up to Haggard. The driver is believed to have been alone.
The FBI is working with Fresno police to determine whether Haggard’s slaying was a hate crime. Fresno police records show there have been no recorded killings of transgender people at least since 2005. But last year was the first time the FBI released statistics for reported hate crimes based on gender identity.
Detectives believe the suspect was looking for a prostitute, after they learned he took a female prostitute to a hotel room about 10 hours after the attack. The woman and her pimp gave police a description of the driver.
The suspect was described as a Hispanic man in his mid-to-late 30s. He is around 5 feet 9 inches tall and 160 pounds with tattoos on both arms and short, dark hair. Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said the detectives have very good leads on the suspect.
Dyer said that besides the driver’s license, the coroner’s report identified Haggard as Kenton Haggard. He said there is a possibility Haggard was transgender, based on the outfit, as some trans activists suggest.
“I’m trying to be very sensitive to the transgender population but I also want to be very sensitive to the family as well,” Dyer said. “And since he is no longer alive, we’re not able to determine what his preference is.”
Gerald Haggard, 62, said he and his older brother were close. The Kenton he knew was a kind, maybe naive, soul. He never married or had children.
Kenton Haggard’s apartment mates and landlord started telling Gerald Haggard his brother was walking around the neighborhood dressed as a woman a few months ago. But Kenton never brought it up to Gerald, and Gerald never asked.