Black Trans Teen Girl Ariyanna Mitchell, 17, Murdered in Virginia

Ariyanna Mitchell Kamari Black trans women
Ariyanna Mitchell via Facebook

Her name was Ariyanna Mitchell. She was 17 years old resident of Newport News, Virginia. On April 2, she was shot multiple times at a party in nearby Hampton, Virginia when she intervened in a dispute. Ariyanna was a Black trans woman.

19-year-old Jimmy Leshawn Williams of Norfolk shot her multiple times with an assault rifle after Williams girlfriend allegedly asked him to shoot up the party. From WAVY (deadnaming and misgendering at this link)

The friend said the shooting stemmed from a fight at a party in Norfolk earlier that night. She said the fight was between her and William’s girlfriend– and that the bullet was meant for her, not Mitchell.

“She [William’s girlfriend] was going to get her boyfriend to come shoot me and everybody in this house,” the friend said.

Williams has a record and is facing other charges including possession of stolen guns. He’s been arrested and is awaiting arraignment.

The events that transpired suggest that Williams asked Ariyanna about her gender identity and shot her based on her response.

Court documents say police were able to identify Williams as the suspect through an eyewitness of the shooting. Documents say that witness said Williams pulled up on Wine Street in his girlfriend’s car. Williams then allegedly got out of the car carrying an assault rifle.

Williams then claimed there was a planned fight. Documents say he asked Mitchell who was fighting. Mitchell claimed to be one of those involved. Paperwork says the witness told police Williams asked if Mitchell was a boy or a girl. Documents say Mitchell replied a boy, and that’s when Williams shot Mitchell multiple times.

So often when I write and share these posts, I am faced with the response of “we can’t know that they were killed because of their gender identity” which reflects a poor grasp of the issue, but in this case it is clear that Ariyanna’s death was, in fact, a result of how she answered that question. That the person who murdered her even asked it is appalling. Her right to live or die depended on her gender identity. It leaves us wondering – did she think identifying as a male would protect her or was she trying to protect the friend quoted in the article who had been interacting with Williams’ girlfriend? Was there a ‘right’ answer that would have kept her alive without jeopardizing anyone’s safety?

And should any 17-year-old be put in a position to have to make those calculations? Of course, there’s no wrong answer either – Ariyanna was entitled to say whatever was necessary to save her life. Unfortunately, that did not happen. We don’t know what she was thinking in those moments, but there is some evidence that she put her own life on the line to protect her friend and others at the party. In other moments, she would be lauded as a hero. But we know that there will be too many who will simply blame her, not for her choices in this moment, but for existing as a Black trans woman.

Ariyanna’s obituary describes so much of her joy and zest for life. (note – deadnaming at this link)

Ariyanna was a student in her Junior year at the East End Academy under the direction of Mrs. Ruby Gilliam, CEO. She was an avid member of the Triple E (Electra Eagles Elite) Dance Academy under the guidance of Mrs. Pandora Carter. Ariyanna loved dancing and styling hair. She was truly unique, funny, and loved by everyone. There was never a dull moment when Ariyanna was around.

What struck me when I first learned of her death was the similarities to the tragic death of Amäriey Lèį (Myara) here in the Pittsburgh community of Wilkinsburg. She was 20 and she was a part of a youth dance team. Myara was killed also by gunfire. It is a heartbreaking reality to have two young Black trans women with similar interests murdered within months of each other, less than 500 miles apart.

Over 238 bills across this nation targeting trans youth, particularly those who want to pursue the all-American ideal of playing sports, and not a single bill protecting 17-year-olds from being murdered at parties. And at least two of these young victims were student athletes. This is so mind-blowing. Surely I cannot be the only one who sees a direct tie between the anti-trans youth bills and the anti-trans youth homicides?

Ariyanna is the 11th transgender person reported as a victim of fatal violence in 2022. She is the seventh Black trans woman and the ninth woman of color from these neighbors. At age 17, she is the youngest of the victims. Her death means a trans neighbor has been murdered every 8.3 days in 2022 in the United States. To date the victims include 7 Black trans women, 2 Latinx trans women, 1 AAIPI trans woman, and 1 white trans man. The youngest was 17, the oldest was 33. Nine were 25 or younger. Their deaths come on the heels of 2021, the most violent year in recorded history with the deaths of 57 trans, non-binary, and gender nonconforming people in the United States alone. Note that the tabulation includes a significant number of reports of folx murdered in 2021. This might be confusing. Of course it is confusing. I tried to sort it out below.

Rest in power, Ariyanna. You deserved many years to share your joy and vibrancy with everyone around you, to grow up and grow into your adult life with so many possibilities. It is clear you were dearly loved by your family and friends, that you were a person of loyalty and courage. I am so sorry we failed to create a world that kept you safe.

May your memory be a revolution.

This is our list of transgender, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming neighbors who have been victims of the campaign of terror in 2022. Please do not copy or share this list without attribution.  

As six additions to our 2021 list have been revealed in 2022, I am adding them in a separate list below to try and make any sense of this increasing horror. These folks deserve their lives and deaths to be honored and remembered. The complexity only underscores their realities.

  1. Amäriey Lèį (Myara) – Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania. January 1, 2022. Age 20. 
  2. Duval Princess – Jacksonville, Florida. January 2, 2022. Age 24.
  3. Naomie Skinner – Detroit, Michigan, February 12, 2022. Age 25.
  4. Cypress Ramos – Lubbock, Texas, February 13, 2022. Age 21.
  5. Paloma Velasquez – Houston, Texas, February 26, 2022. Age 29.
  6. Matthew Spampinato – New Castle, Delaware, February 9, 2022. Age 21.
  7. Tatiana LaBelle – Chicago, Illinois, March 18, 2022. Age 33.
  8. Kathryn Newhouse – Canton, Georgia, March 19, 2022. Age 19.
  9. Kesha Webster – Jackson, Mississippi, March 26, 2022. Age 24.
  10. Miia Love Parker – Chester, Pennsylvania, April 1, 2022. Age 25.
  11. Ariyanna Mitchell – Hampton, Virginia, April 2, 2022. Age 17.

Deaths in 2021 (see this link for deaths reported during the 2021 calendar year) These are deaths reported in 2022 and beyond.

  • 52 Za’Niyah Williams – Houston, Texas. December 20, 2021, reported on Jan 5, 2022. Age 21.
  • 53 Nikki Turrietta – Albuquerque, New Mexico, December 31, 2021, reported on January 27, 2022. Age 31.
  • 54 Keeva Scatter – Baton Rouge, Louisiana, October 15, 2021, confirmed on February 13, 2022. Age 34.
  • 55 Rubi Dominguez – Brownsville, Texas, July 15, 2021, confirmed on February 13, 2022. Age 29.
  • 56 Martina Caldera – Houston, Texas, December 6, 2021. Age 38.
  • 57 Geri Judd – Bossier, Louisiana, September 28, 2021, confirmed March 1, 2022. Age 60.


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