Serena Angelique Velázquez murders
International, News

Two men arrested over Puerto Rico trans woman murders

Police in Puerto Rico have arrested two men in connection with the recent transphobic murders of two women.

Friends Layla Peláez Sánchez, 21, and Serena Angelique Velázquez, 32, of New York City, were found dead in a burned car on 22 April in Humacao, on the island’s east coast.

Police are awaiting autopsy results to determine how the women were killed.

Juan Carlos Pagán Bonilla, 21, and Sean Díaz de León, 19, were taken into custody on Thursday and have been turned over to the Federal Bureau of Investigations, according to The New York Times.

Police Captain Teddy Morales said that security footage and social media records showed the two men were socialising with Peláez and Velázquez the night of their deaths.

“We are classifying it as a hate crime because they were socialising with the victims, and once they found out they were transgender women, they decided to kill them,” said Morales.

The men turned themselves in to police, and one confessed to his involvement in the murders, after a local radio station posted their pictures online and listeners began calling in to identify them.

Velázquez and Peláez are among four trans people killed in Puerto Rico in just the last two months, and among eight trans or gender non-conforming people killed in the United States so far this year.

Latin America is notoriously dangerous for trans people, with more than 200 murders last year, primarily in Brazil.

In the United States, dozens more trans people are killed annually, and research has found that police in Puerto Rico under-report how many murdered women are trans.

Almost all of at least 10 LGBTQ murders in the territory over the last 15 months remain unsolved.

Gay rights activist Pedro Julio Serrano said that the arrests of Velázquez and Peláez’s alleged killers represent “a step in the right direction”.

“We urge the government to finish the investigations in the other seven murders of LGBTQ people on the island and serve justice for all of them,” said Serrano.

The two women’s deaths were just weeks after trans woman Mira was tortured and killed in Indonesia.

Advocates have called for police to take transphobic hate crimes seriously and demanded full investigations.

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