On November 22, 2020, a horrific crime took the life of 55-year-old white trans woman, Kimberly Susan Fial. She was volunteering at a local homeless shelter in Grace Baptist Church in San Jose, California when she and four other staff/volunteers were stabbed by a resident of the shelter. Kim and one other person died from their injuries, the other three victims survived.
The man who killed them was Fernando Jesus Lopez, 32, who is now in jail waiting trial. His weapon was a kitchen butcher knife. Lopez’ immigration status is being used as weapon to tighten immigration rules in sanctuary cities like San Jose, a turn of events that the pastor of Grace Baptist Church finds actually dishonors the memories of the departed.
Once upon a time, Kimberly Fial was a homeless person who stayed at Grace Baptist’s shelter. According to Planet Transgender:
Ms. Fial arrived at Grace Baptist Church as a shelter guest in the middle of the year, and almost as soon as she got there, she started pitching in to help staff however she could, said shelter manager Anthony Mastrocola. That included helping make and serve dinner, passing out coffee in the morning, and running the shelter’s shower arrangements.
So she did everything right from the perspective of the right. She sought out help when she needed it, she was a model resident who volunteered. Then when she founded permanent housing, she continued to volunteer. She was working side by side with Lopez just moments before he murdered her.
But she wasn’t safe in that space.
According to The Mercury News and Planet Transgender, Fial volunteered at the homeless shelter at Grace Baptist Church where she was killed. Those who knew her said she was a “proud trans woman.” She “loved bright colors” and had the “ability to draw a laugh out of people around her.” Fial is remembered by friends and loved ones as “a kind and loving person” and someone with “a twinkle in her eye.” Said shelter manager Anthony Mastrocola, “My heart always felt warm when I saw her when I got into the building.” A vigil was held to remember Fial and all the victims of the stabbing last week.
Kimberly was born and raised in Greene, New York. She is missed by her friends and loved ones. For a more detail account of events, please visit Planet Transgender’s coverage of the story. The shelter volunteers recently held a memorial event and reasserted their commitment to continue serving. I do not know of plans for final arrangements.
Kimberly’s story is why the myth of a “model client” makes me grind my teeth. Being kind, helpful, and empathetic did not protect Kimberly, Appropriate funding levels for homeless services and housing supports would have protected her. More staff with more resources and more options would have protected her. While we cannot and need not say that she was targeted for being trans, we can look at the data on homelessness and see that her trans identity was a significant risk factor for housing insecurity.
And as I write this in late December with a surging pandemic amidst looming cutbacks of supports in housing, rent, utilities, etc – I cannot fathom what our trans siblings and neighbors will face in 2021.
Rest in power, Kimberly. You and I shared the name – Susan – so I will always think of you when I use that name. Thank you for the many kindnesses and services you offered your colleagues and clients alike. You deserved the companionship you asked for and I am so sorry that didn’t happen in this lifetime.
My list of transgender, gender non-conforming, and non-binary neighbors who have lost their lives to violent deaths in the US during 2020.
- Dustin Parker – McAlester, Oklahoma. January 1, 2020. Age 25.
- Alexa Negron Luciano – Toa Baja, Puerto Rico. February 24, 2020. Age 29.
- Yampi Mendez Arocho – Moca, Puerto Rico, March 5, 2020. Age 19.
- Monica Diamond – Charlotte, North Carolina. March 18, 2020. Age 34.
- Lexi – Harlem, New York City, New York. March 28, 2020. Age 33.
- Johanna Metzger – Baltimore, Maryland. April 1, 2020. Age 25.
- Serena Angelique Velazquezz – Puerto Rico. April 22, 2020. Age 32.
- Layla Pelaez – Puerto Rico. April 22, 2020. Age 21.
- Penélope Díaz Ramírez – Puerto Rico. April 13, 2020. Age 31
- Nina Pop – Sikeston, Missouri. May 3, 2020. Age 28.
- Helle Jae O’Regan – San Antonio, Texas. May 6, 2020. Age 20.
- Tony McDade – Tallahassee, Florida. May 27, 2020. Age 38.
- Dominique Rem’mie Fells – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. June 8, 2020. Age 27.
- Riah Milton – Liberty Township, Ohio. June 9, 2020. Age 25.
- Selena Reyes Hernandez – Chicago. May 31, 2020. Age 37.
- Brayla Stone – Sherwood, Arkansas. June 25, 2020. Age 17.
- Merci Mack – Dallas, June 30, 2020. Age 22.
- Jayne Thompson – Colorado, May 2020. Age 33.
- Bree Black – Pompana Beach, Florida, July 3, 2020. Age 27.
- Draya McCarty – Baton Rouge, Louisiana, July 2020. Age unknown.
- Shaki Peters – Amite, Louisiana, July 1, 2020. Age 32.
- Marilyn Cazares – Brawley, California, July 13, 2020. Age 22.
- Tatiana Hall – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, approx June 29, 2020. Age 22.
- Queasha Hardy – Baton Rouge, Louisiana, July 27, 2020. Age 24.
- Tiffany Harris – Bronx, New York, July 26, 2020. Age 32.
- Aja Raquell Rhone-Spears – Portland, Oregon, July 28, 2020. Age 32.
- Aerrion Burnett – Independence, Missouri, September 19, 2020. Age 37.
- Mia Green – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, September 28, 2020. Age 29.
- Michelle Ramos Vargas – Puerto Rico, September 30, 2020. Age 33.
- Kee Sam – Lafayette, Louisiana, August 12, 2020. Age 24.
- Felycya Harris – Augusta, Georgia, October 3, 2020. Age 32.
- Brooklyn DeShauna Smith – Shreveport, Louisiana, October 7, 2020. Age 20.
- Sara Blackwood – Indianapolis, Indiana, October 11, 2020. Age 39.
- Angel Haynes – Memphis, Tennessee, October 25, 2020. Age 25.
- Lea Rayshone Daye – Cleveland, Ohio, August 30, 2020. Age 28.
- Scott DeVore, also known as Scottlynn Kelly DeVore – Augusta, Georgia, March 31, 2020. Age 51
- Yunieski Carey Herrera – Miami, November 17, 2020. Age 39.
- Asia Jynaé Foster – Houston, Texas, November 20, 2020. Age 22.
- Chae’Meshia Simms – Richmond, Texas, November 23, 2020. Age: 39.
- Skylar Heath – Miami, Florida, November 4, 2020. Age 20.
- Kimberly Fial – San Jose, California, November 22, 2020. Age 55.
We are also monitoring these suspicious deaths
Fendi Mon’ezah Armstrong – Lithonia, Georgia, November 11, 2020. Age 39