Trans Woman Zella Ziona Was Murdered For "Embarrassing" Her Killer

October 22nd 2015

Laura Donovan

Trans woman Zella Ziona was killed last week in Montgomery Village, Maryland, and police are investigating the matter as a possible hate crime.

A police document filed in court reveals that Rico Leblond, the man charged with her murder, allegedly shot her several times after she "greatly embarrassed" him by coming up to him and his "crew" in what he described as a flamboyant way. Ziona was found in an alley with gunshot wounds to her head and groin.

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"We are not ruling out the possibility that this could be hate-based," Montgomery County police spokesman Capt. Paul Starks told NBC Washington.

According to the police document, witnesses said that Ziona and Leblond knew each other and that the shooting happened after a “simmering dispute [between them] had been escalating." The document also uses Ziona's birth name, DeAndre Smith.

“Witnesses said that after initially shooting [Ziona], the suspect walked over to her, stood over her, and fired more rounds into her body,” the police statement says. “[Ziona] suffered gunshot wounds to the head and groin area. It appears that [Ziona] and Leblond had some sort of friendship and that information had now become public. Leblond was very upset with [her] when this information came to light. In the recent past, Leblond was with his crew at the Lake Forest Mall when Smith approached his group and began acting flamboyantly towards Leblond and greatly embarrassed Leblond in front of his peers."

A witness told local news station WJLA that he heard Ziona arguing with a group of people before hearing multiple gunshots.

"They argued and things happened so fast," the witness, who did not want to give a name, told the news outlet. "I don't know what they argued for."

Capt. Darren Francke, commander of the Montgomery County Police Major Crimes Division, said in an interview with the Washington Post that "this was an absolutely premeditated murder."

“Leblond sought out the victim and killed her,” he said.

Ziona's friend Jasmine Black said Ziona had only recently started identifying as transgender.

"She just wanted to embrace her life," Black told NBC Washington. "She wanted to show the world how to be transgender. She helped people. She inspired someone else named Chris to be himself."

Ziona was the 21st trans woman reported killed in the U.S. in 2015. As noted by The Root, most of the victims have been transgender women of color.

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