After years of struggling with her gender identity, 35-year-old Kandis Capri, a transgender Phoenix woman, was finally getting her life together.
She had resumed attending church and was enrolled in classes at South Mountain Community College, intent on studying theology. And for the first time in years, Capri was living comfortably as a woman.
But Capri’s aspirations and life were snuffed out on August 11, when she was discovered shot and bleeding outside an apartment complex near 45th Avenue and Thomas Road. She later died at a hospital.
Capri's death made her the 17th transgender person killed in the United States this year alone, according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. Since her death, two more transgender homicides have escalated that total to 19, mostly women of color, like Capri.
With Capri’s killer on the loose and few viable leads, her family has publicly called for the case to be investigated by the Department of Justice as a hate crime.
“I just want justice for my child,” Capri's mother, Adria Gaines, tells New Times. “She did not deserve to be murdered. She was a loving, kind soul.”
Late on the night of
August 11, Capri was at a friend’s apartment, where she had been staying for the past few weeks. About 11:30, gunshots were heard outside the apartment complex. Minutes later, Capri was found shot multiple times in the front and back, and her purse and phone were missing.
A month later, police have not released many details of the case, though they are investigating whether her gender may have been a factor in the murder.
“We do not know what the motive is at this point, so certainly, everything is being looked into and is on the table,” says Phoenix police Sergeant Trent Crump in an e-mail.
The morning after the shooting, Gaines was notified of her daughter’s death when police arrived at her front door. Awash in grief, Gaines feared that Capri’s lifestyle fueled the murder.
Born Dedrick Gaines, Capri was in her teens when her mother first noticed that her son preferred to dress as a woman. But Capri didn’t start living as a female until 2012, following the deaths of her mentor and two family members.
Her mother accepted her choice and always thought of Capri as her son, sometimes referring to him with masculine pronouns.
“I had issues with it when I first found out,” Gaines says. “I came to just accept it . . . I just felt like he was my child, and I loved him no matter what. I didn’t care. He was still my baby."
More than 500 mourners paid their respect at Capri's funeral late last month, including several transgender people who had never met her but came to show support.
“It was overwhelmingly beautiful, I thought,” says Gaines.
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This past year, high-profile personalities like Caitlyn Jenner have heightened public awareness about the transgender community. But increased visibility can also put transgender people at risk of harassment, violence, and even murder, says Chai Jindasurat, director of communications of National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs.
“One of the main issues for transgender women is violence,” he says. “We continue to find, year after year, transgender women and transgender women of color being victims of hate violence.”
For Gaines, she hopes that her daughter’s death helps cast a spotlight on hate crimes against transgender women.
“I just think focus and attention needs to be brought to the murders of transgender women,” she says.