Baltimore police investigating shooting death of transgender woman

Baltimore police are investigating the death of a 38-year-old transgender woman who was found shot in Barclay early Wednesday.

Police said Alphonza Watson was found shot in the stomach at about 4:15 a.m. in the 2400 block of Guilford Ave. Watson, who lives in the 2000 block of N. Charles St., was taken to Johns Hopkins Hospital, where she was pronounced dead a short time later, police said.

"At this time, we don't have a lot to go on," police spokesman T.J. Smith said. "What we know is that there was apparently some sort of argument that took place."

Witnesses told investigators that they heard someone yelling for help and then gunshots, police said. Two men were then seen running and getting into a dark-colored vehicle that sped off, police said.

Watson's mother, Peggy Walker, said Watson had come out as transgender in her teens and went by the name "Peaches." She grew up in Washington, Walker said, but moved to Baltimore about 10 to 15 years ago.

"She was a very caring, passionate, fun person to be around, always in a talkative and playful mood," Walker said. "Very close to the lord. She didn't belong to a church or anything like that but she always talked about the lord."

Walker said Watson enjoyed cooking and gardening, and had been a top salesperson at a high-end retail store in Northern Virginia.

Watson was "the sunshine of our family," Walker said, and "would never do any harm to anyone."

Smith said police did not know of a motive in the killing or whether it was related to Watson's identifying as transgender.

"That's a vulnerable community that has had some issues in the past," Smith said. There have been 14 transgender homicide victims in Baltimore since 2005. Before Watson, the last was 32-year-old Crystal Edmonds, who was found shot in the 3600 block of Fairview Avenue in Forest Park on Sept. 16.

Police had not previously released a motive in Edmonds' killing, but Smith said Wednesday it was a robbery. No arrests have been made.

Transgender sex workers in Baltimore have repeatedly been targeted in violence. Local advocacy organizations have offered safety courses specifically designed to address their needs.

Watson was arrested for prostitution in the city four times between 2006 and 2016 She was found guilty once.

Smith said police are aware of that history and are investigating whether it played a role in Watson's killing.

Smith said Police Commissioner Kevin Davis met with a local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advisory board Wednesday morning to discuss the Watson's death.

Homicide detectives knocked on doors near the intersection of Guilford Avenue and 24th Street early Wednesday. Yellow police tape lay in the front yard of one home. Detectives asked a resident about a surveillance camera outside the home.

A detective in a suit, dress coat and sunglasses got on his hands and knees to peer down a storm sewer in front of the home.

Sgt. Kevin Bailey, the LGBT liaison for the department, said two organizations nearby are offering support services for those in the transgender community who might be grieving.

"We're open today for anybody who is in crisis" or "needs a safe space," said Ken Jiretsu, a peer support specialist at Hearts & Ears, a nonprofit on Park Avenue that offers help to LGBT individuals with mental health issues.

The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center of Baltimore and Central Maryland encouraged any grieving members of the transgender community to stop by.

"I think people of course are going to be grieving," said Key'aysia Tucker, public health case manager at the organization.

She said she's already heard from several people who expressed concern for their safety.

"They are afraid," she said.

Police asked anyone with information to call homicide detectives at 410-396-2100, text a tip to 443-902-4824, or call Metro Crime Stoppers at 1-866-7LOCKUP.

jkanderson@baltsun.com

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