Three Men Arraigned in Death of Transgendered Teen
NTAC Urges Hate Crime Charges in Brutal Bludgeoning Death
[NEWARK, CA] - The body of a transgendered Newark, California teen who failed to return home after an October 3 party was discovered nearly two weeks later, buried in a shallow grave 150 miles away. Seventeen-year old Lida (born Eddie) Araujo was found on Wednesday, October 15, after her mother reported her missing. Araujo was severely bludgeoned about the head, then strangled.
|Gwen Araujo, 17, found buried in a shallow grave after being reported missing for two weeks.|
Late Friday, prosecutors charged Michael William Magidson, 27, Jaron Chase Nabors, 19, and Jose Antonio Merel, 24, all from Newark, in the murder. A fourth suspect arrested Wednesday, Jose's brother, Paul Richard Merel Jr., 25 was not arraigned.
Police reports state Lida Araujo, who also used the name Gwen, was assaulted and killed at the Oct. 3 party. "We're dealing with a number of people [at the party] who could have helped, stepped in, prevented or reported this," said Newark Police Lt. Lance Morrison. "None of them did."
Police speculate Araujo was killed in Newark, and then transported to a remote part of Silver Fork campground east of Placerville, CA, where the body was buried. Morrison described it as a "haunting and gruesome situation."
The defendants allegedly beat Araujo, gashing her head, and then dragged the semiconscious body to the garage, where they tightened a rope around Araujo's neck until she appeared dead.
According to an affidavit, Paul Merel's girlfriend, Nicole Brown, discovered Araujo's secret after taking her into a bathroom at the Merels' house to determine her gender once and for all. After Brown announced that Lida was a boy, Jose Merel punched Araujo to the floor and Nabors and Magidson joined in, police said.
Paul Merel said he was sleeping when his girlfriend then woke him up and insisted they flee, saying, "It's a man, let's go." He told police he saw Araujo lying on the floor with her skirt pulled up as they left the house, but knew nothing more.
"There's no bias in him," said Jaron Nabors' attorney, Robert Beles. Beles added there was nothing to indicate that Nabors "would actively participate in any type of homophobic activity."
A neighbor of the Merels, who asked to remain anonymous, said she's known her neighbors for 10 years and characterized them as "nice, pleasant, well-mannered boys."
"I hope everybody out there who sees this learns something from this because he was a beautiful person inside and out," said Araujo's aunt, Imelda Guerrero. "We want to remember him as the human being that he was," she said, crying. "Nobody deserves to take his life, his young life, he didn't deserve it."
In fact, Newark Unified School District Superintendent Ken Sherer characterized Araujo as "a rather non-aggressive individual".
A teacher who knew the victim told the San Jose Mercury News she was a "happy-go-lucky" and intelligent teen who was well liked by peers.
Araujo "was always smiling," added Superintendent Sherer. "He selected his friends very carefully and, according to some students, did have more female friends than male," he said.
Other teachers in the district expressed shock and sadness at the news. "We're heartsick," said Mary Kay Henderson, a teacher at Newark Memorial High School.
Although Lida Araujo would've been a senior this year, she did not return to Newark's Crossroads High School. Pastor Ed Moore, who knows Araujo's family, said she had been ostracized.
"People did not really want to accept him, he didn't get a job because of who he was," Moore said. "And so not only was there personal struggles, but also struggles with how she was viewed by society."
Meanwhile, the nation's Transgender Community has been rocked by the brutal murder.
"Yet again, hatred rears its ugly head," said an irate Vanessa Edwards Foster, the chair of NTAC. "It's the byproduct of ignorance, personal phobias, and total lack of value for the lives of transgenders, and in fact, anyone who's 'different' in society.
"What makes it worse," Foster added, "is the utter lack of attention by many of this country's leaders towards addressing the issues of hatred and prejudice - specifically against the transgendered."
"It's horrible," said Gwen Smith, founder of the Day of Remembrance, an observance by the nation's Transgender Community that takes place November 20. "Again we see a young transgendered person killed before their prime, simply because someone was uncomfortable with their gender identity."
"If it's not a hate crime, I don't know what other crime it could be. Why would you do that to a young person?" said Rachael Janelle Light, president of Transgender San Francisco (TGSF). "We all lose a piece of ourselves when this happens."
NTAC requests a vigorous prosecution, and a just and meaningful punishment of those convicted in the brutal death of Lida Gwen Araujo.
Imelda Guerrero, the victim's aunt, cried, "They're going to pay for what they did!"
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Founded in 1999, NTAC - the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition - is a 501(c)(4) civil rights organization working to establish and maintain the right of all transgendered, intersexed, and gender-variant people to live and work without fear of violence or discrimination.