Black- and copper-colored beads lay around a puddle of blood in a Northwest Baltimore alley where police said a transgender woman was killed early Wednesday in a crime that bore similarities to the slaying of another transgender woman last month.
Baltimore police are investigating whether the death of Mia Henderson, 26, is connected to the killing of Kandy, whose body was found June 3 in a field in Northeast Baltimore.
Both were found during the early morning, and police have no suspects in either case.
The death of Henderson, who was known previously as Kevin Long, drew a roomful of leaders from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community to a meeting with Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts. Batts tried to assure them that detectives were working hard on both cases.
"We want to be strong partners with our LGBT community," he sad. "Not by talk but by action."
The killings of Henderson and Kandy, who was known previously as Ricky Carlos Hall, have shaken many in the local transgender community. Advocates say some feel targeted by violence but are reluctant to cooperate with police because they're afraid of being profiled or investigated as prostitutes.
"It's clear the community is concerned about the continued violence against transgender women, and we need to see action," said Keith Thirion, director of advocacy and programs for Equality Maryland.
Henderson's killing was the third in a span of about 12 hours Tuesday evening into Wednesday morning, ending what had been a quiet week in the city. Jamal Ross, 32, was shot to death at North Bentalou Street and Windsor Avenue near Coppin State University at about 5 p.m. Tuesday, police said Thursday. Darnell Mitchell, 28, was fatally shot in the chest in the 2200 block of Cedley St. in the Westport neighborhood of South Baltimore at about 4 a.m. Wednesday.
Reggie Bullock, a player for the Los Angeles Clippers who grew up in Baltimore, called Henderson his "brother" in tweets Wednesday evening.
He wrote that Henderson "lived his own life" and "loved me and his immediate family to death."
"Never cared what others thought," Bullock said. "Always tried to keep people smiling and would do anything for me."
Police officers from the Baltimore-area Warrant Apprehension Task Force were attempting to serve a warrant in the Hanlon-Longwood neighborhood about 6 a.m. Wednesday when they found Henderson's body in an alley in the 3400 block of Piedmont Ave.
The alley off Garrison Boulevard, which police says is a hot spot for prostitution, is shielded from the view of busy streets. Neighbors say it has served as a rendezvous for drug users, prostitutes and johns attempting to buy sex with small amounts of cash or drugs.
It is lined with vacant garages filled with tree branches and the remaining foundations of crumbling brick structures that neighbors said also serve as hideouts.
Foam plates, bags of garbage and a used condom could be seen Wednesday not far from a blood-spattered white sheet, pairs of rubber gloves and crime scene tape.
Police said Henderson died of "severe trauma."
A neighbor wiped tears from her eyes as she walked the alley. She said she believes she saw the victim and her killer go down the narrow corridor sometime around 5 a.m.
The woman, who declined to provide her name out of fear, said she was walking on Garrison Boulevard to meet a friend early Wednesday when she saw a light-skinned black man in a white T-shirt, white baseball cap and blue jeans looking around nervously.
She said the man had approached her friend and proposed $10 for a "date," but she had turned him down.
The woman said she and her friend walked to a porch on Piedmont Avenue across from the alley's entrance and watched a transgender woman in a skirt and shoulder-length black wig accompany the same man into the alley.
The woman said she recognized the transgender woman because she had seen her standing on the corner of Piedmont and Garrison during predawn hours several times over the last few months.
"I saw her and him coming up right here in the morning," she said. "I didn't hear no screams. I didn't hear no guns."
As the sun rose a short time later, she said, she saw police converge on the alley.
Baltimore police spokesman Lt. Eric Kowalczyk said prostitution is being investigated as a circumstance in the crime. Maryland court records show that Henderson had been arrested twice for alleged prostitution.
She was charged in February 2013 with prostitution, resisting arrest and second-degree assault, according to the records. She was convicted on the assault charge and sentenced to two years in prison. Most of the sentence was suspended.
Women who live around Garrison said they've noticed more and more aggressive men approaching prostitutes demanding sex or trying to "bait" or lure them to empty structures.
James Burrell, Jr., whose group Women Accepting Responsibility offers safety courses for transgender prostitutes and tries to pull them off the streets by helping them find jobs, said he has heard the same stories.
"It's a dangerous lifestyle, No. 1," he said. "But when you go to law enforcement, no one is helpful. Well, not everyone — officers might go around the block to investigate, but there's no follow-up."
Jacqueline Robarge of the group Power Inside, which aims to stop gender-based violence, attended the meeting Wednesday afternoon with police commanders.
Robarge said she felt police did not take seriously her tips on how to approach transgender people to investigate the killings of the transgender women.
She recommended that detectives say they are only trying to solve the killings — not "to enforce quality-of-life crimes."
"I don't hear significant progress in investigating these type of very brutal murders," she said.
Police say they have made strides to improve relations with the transgender community, appointing an LGBT liaison and creating an advisory council in recent months.
Baltimore police Maj. Dennis Smith, who oversees homicide detectives, said investigators are being thorough, looking for similarities not only between the recent deaths, but also with killings from previous years.
"We're looking at everything involved in the cases," he said. "Every clue to see if they're connected or not connected."