NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – The NYPD is investigating the death of a transgender woman as a possible hate crime.
The victim, 21-year-old Islan Nettles, died Thursday night five days after she was attacked in Harlem, police said.
Nettles’ mother, sister and grandmother kept a bedside vigil at the hospital before agreeing to end life support, CBS 2’s Tony Aiello reported.
“We all held hands. All of us around him, holding hands, the whole family,” said Sarah Davis, Nettles’ grandmother. “We’re going to miss him.”
Nettles and a friend, another transgender woman, were out Saturday evening in Harlem when they ran into a group of men and one pounced, punching Nettles in the face, police said.
A witness who spoke to authorities initially did not mention any anti-gay remarks.
The suspect, 20-year-old Paris Wilson, allegedly punched Nettles in the face. Wilson allegedly kept punching after Nettles fell to the ground, Aiello reported.
After the attack, Nettles was hospitalized, slipped into a coma and later died.
Wilson was arrested on an assault charge, but now that Nettles has died, more serious charges are pending.
The witness eventually told detectives about the anti-gay remarks and the hate crimes task force took over the investigation. Detectives are looking whether the suspect had propositioned Nettles.
A leader in the Harlem LGBTQ community says nerves are on edge.
“In terms of feeling safe, generally speaking, I do, but after this I really don’t know. Am I going to get jumped because I’m walking around with a Harlem Pride tee shirt on?” said Carmen Neely of Harlem Pride. “We are seeing a rise of transphobia and trans women and men are part of our community.”
A law enforcement source told Aiello it will take some digging to determine if it was a hate crime. It seems the victim and the suspect knew each other and were friends on Facebook, Aiello reported.
Davis said her her grandchild dreamed of working in the fashion industry.
“Very quiet, didn’t like to fight or nothing,” Davis said.
The family is devastated by the senseless death, Aiello reported.
City Council speaker and a mayoral candidate Christine Quinn denounced the most recent attack.
“An attack against one person, or one community, is an assault against all New Yorkers,” she said in a joint statement with other council members. “We ask all New Yorkers to come together, to embrace our differences and to denounce hate violence.”
Manhattan Borough President and comptroller candidate Scott Stringer also issued a statement calling the attack “appalling and unacceptable.”
“We pride ourselves on tolerance and generosity toward others in this city, but the murder of Islan Nettles is a reminder of how far we still have to go in ensuring that all New Yorkers can walk the streets with dignity and safety,” he said.
It was the latest in a spate of bias attacks this year in New York. Sixty-eight have been reported, from yelled slurs to the May killing of a 32-year-old gay man in Greenwich Village. Last week, a gay couple was attacked in Chelsea.
Police stepped up patrols this summer in response.
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