Late Wednesday, TransLatin@ Coalition founder Bamby Salcedo announced the death of the group’s friend and client, Viccky Gutierrez. The Los Angeles Police Department has not yet officially identified the burned body found in Gutierrez’s apartment as the young trans Latina, but Salcedo and Gutierrez’s friends are certain it is her.
LAPD spokesperson Officer Drake Madison told the Los Angeles Blade that the LAPD’s West Bureau Division and the LA Fire Department responded at 3:15 amWednesday morning to a fire in a multi-family house in the 1700 block of South New Hampshire Boulevard in the Pico Union district. The flames were contained to the attic and a single unit on the second floor of the two-story, 116-year-old building.
“One person was found dead inside,” KTLA reported, “and officials believe the death may be suspicious.” However, “no further details on why the death was suspicious were given.” KTLA also reports that arson investigators are talking to witnesses and looking into the source of the fire. The other families escaped without injury.
“This is a high priority case for us,” LAPD Det. Sharon Kim told the Los Angeles Blade. She expects the autopsy results to be released either Thursday or Friday to be able to issue a positive identification.
Kim also clarified that a news report indicating that federal agencies are involved in the investigation is incorrect. The LAPD has a long standing policy —confirmed by then-LAPD Chief Bill Bratton directly to Bamby Salcedo—that the LAPD does not cooperate with ICE regarding any undocumented individuals in order to gain community support in finding murder suspects, perpetrators of hate crimes and to allow victims and witnesses of crimes to come forward.
But Salcedo and the LA trans community already know the burned body is Viccky Gutierrez. And Salcedo’s not only hurt but angry. “It’s not just that she is gone—it is the way that she was murdered. She was brutally murdered. We believe that it was intentional. We believe it was premeditated,” Salcedo says in an emotional video in Spanish and English posted on her Facebook page. Salcedo wants to “seek justice for Viccky.”
Gutierrez was a young trans Latina woman from Honduras who used to come to TransLatin@ Coalition group meetings and “just to have lunch,” Salcedo tells The LA Blade.
Ask why Salcedo suspects murder, she says: “her body was burned so we think she was murdered before they got there. It’s not confirmed—police are still investigating. But one of her closest friends, Cristy—who comes from the same small town in Honduras—had dinner with her that night and said she was okay. So there is a lot of speculation—we know the danger we experience everyday. We think it’s possible she was killed before they burned her apartment. She was completely unrecognizable. People kept calling her cell phone and she didn’t answer. It was late at night and her neighbors were sleeping and no one heard her screaming. So my assumption is that she was dead or unconscious before she was burned. That’s why I’m 99% sure she was brutally murdered and burned to death.”
Salcedo adds that “one of the girls told Cristy that they told her the apartment smelled like gasoline, like it was sprayed on the apartment and lit on fire.”
Amongst themselves, the mourning trans community also wonders if Gutierrez, who engaged in survival sex work, may have been killed by somebody who may have come to visit her. “There’s a strong possibility it came from work. It’s what we have to do. But we just don’t know. We asked the LAPD to check her cell phone but everything was burned,” Salcedo says.
“She was such a sweet girl. She was our sister,” Salcedo adds.
Salcedo has asked the Honduran Consult to attend the vigil for Gutierrez on Friday and pressure the LAPD to do a quick investigation so they can release her body to her family. In Latin America, she explains, families bury their dead the next day.
Viccky’s Vigil of Resistance is scheduled for Friday, Jan. 12 from 7:00p-10:00pm at 1660 Venice Blvd, LA 90006. See the Facebook page for more information.
Salcedo has also set up a GoFundMe page to raise money to fly Gutierrez’s body back to Honduras and help the family with funeral services.
LAPD Det. Sharon Kim asks that anyone with information or tips call: 213-382-9470.