"She's been picked on from Day 1," explains her father, Gus, on the couch watching television at Polis' apartment.

He's still worried that people are out to get his daughter.

"She's always had everything hard on her," he says.

While Polis' family and friends tell stories of bullying, she says she wasn't picked on in school. She says she dressed in unisex clothing and sat out of gym class. Polis wanted to be a tornado chaser when she was little. She had seen the Magic School Bus, the TV series developed to make science fun for kids, and weather fascinated her.

Her voice never changed, she says; it just always had that same squeaky sound.

Polis and her father have tried to work on their relationship after he was severely injured in a car accident last fall. They didn't get along when she was growing up.

When her father talks about her, sometimes Polis is "she," sometimes "he." But he's certain that Polis was "born a girl," he says, with "all the hormones and mannerisms from Day 1."

"She just didn't have that drive that a male-role person would," he says.

'Big Sis'

Brackett was flat on her back in an Arizona hospital when she saw video of the attack on her iPad.

"That could have been me," thought the then-49-year-old, who had flown to the Southwest for gender reassignment surgery.

After the beating, Brackett met Polis at a Panera Bread restaurant with Thoms.

"You have to understand that Chrissy is ... very much a creature of the streets," Brackett says. "She's street smart, tough. And she was very suspect in what my motivations might be."

Brackett says she only wanted to help, as others had helped her. She told Polis she might need her to speak for three minutes in Annapolis the next year, for testimony on bills that would ban discrimination against transgender people. Polis never did testify.

Polis nicknamed Brackett "Big Sis," and over the next few months, Brackett lent Polis money when she needed food. Polis also says she paid her cellphone bill for months. She advised Polis to lie low as she pursued legal action and urged her to get a GED.

Brackett saw Polis as someone who lived entirely in the present, with little concept of the future.

"On occasion, she would push away help because the help would often come with constraints," Brackett says. "There were a lot of people trying to help her. She wants what she wants when she wants it. She's a little impulsive that way."

Polis says she ended her friendship with Brackett because "she wanted to run my life." According to Polis, Brackett counseled her to break up with her boyfriend, a middle-aged man who is in jail.

"She got tired of me advising her," Brackett says.

Polis' life was complicated not only by her circumstances but by her actions. In December, a Baltimore County police officer came to Polis' apartment when she said she was robbed of $800 in her Essex neighborhood. She allegedly became belligerent when the officer arrived, and police said she told different versions of what happened. Polis was charged with disorderly conduct and received unsupervised probation.

Brackett and Polis had lost touch by that time.

"I wanted to show her that there was more to life than she was experiencing," Brackett says. "She doesn't have a hard life because she's trans. She has a hard life because she has a hard life. And being trans just makes it harder."