Gwen lived in Newark, California, USA. Family members knew Gwen as a happy and energetic child who was always laughing and quite active. Gwen, who had originally been given the name Edward, expressed the desire to be female from an early age and just prior to her death she was experimenting with cross living. Gwen Araujo attended public schools and a local church with family members until the controversy surrounding her life and how she chose to live it grew at which time she began to withdraw socially. She stopped attending Newark Memorial High School prior to her graduation and began to look for work. She was unable to find a job which her mother believed was the result of intolerance created by her child's gradual transition between the sexes.
Gwen, who was using the name "Lida" at the time, was introduced to a circle of friends she had met following a chance encounter when walking down a local street. She was approached by two men who found her attractive and wanted to include her in their social activities. The group of young adults enjoyed passing the evening hours with party activities that included playing dominos together and consuming drugs and alcohol while at a single family dwelling where one of Gwen's assailants had lived. Gwen is reported to have become sexually active with a few of these men. She was later invited back to the house where a party was planned a few weeks after she and the men had first met. She wore her mother's peasant blouse to the party. Gwen's mother had asked her not to wear the clothing she had picked out for that evening and expressed her discomfort with Gwen's appearance. Gwen told her mother that she was just being jealous of her. This was the last time Sylvia Guerrero would see her child alive.
At the party, (October 3, 2002) it was discovered by forced inspection, conducted by one of her assailants and his girlfriend, that Gwen was in fact a pre-operative transsexual woman. As rumors circulated, the men she had been sexual with became extremely agitated and continued talk of killing Gwen that had begun earlier in the week during those final days that led up to the party when the same men involved openly began questioning Gwen's gender and sex. Once it was discovered Gwen Aruajo was biologically male, she was struck on the head with a soup can and then struck again with a frying pan causing a gash to her head. The blow was so forceful that her head broke a hole through an adjacent wall. Gwen was then taken to the garage of the home where the party had occurred, where she was strangled by rope and severely beaten again with a shovel, equipment that two of the four men involved had acquired during a trip away from the home while the party had continued. She was then hog-tied, wrapped in a blanket and placed in the bed of a pick-up truck. Two of the men drove her body to parkland in El Dorado County, a wooded area and the foothills of the Sierra Nevada in California where she was finally buried in a shallow grave.
Nearly two weeks passed before Gwen's body was discovered by the authorities. Partygoers present, for fear of reprisal, did not report the crime that had occurred and the assailants all agreed not to say a word to anyone about the matter. Later however, one of these men began talking to a friend and then wrote about his experience to his girlfriend from the jail where he was being held.
Alameda County Sheriff’s Department dispatched four crime scene investigators and two detectives who recovered the body at the grave-site. The officers were led there on October 16th, 2002 by Jaron Nabors, the youngest of the four individuals charged with her murder and hate crime. The four accused of the murder are: Michael Magidson, 27, Jaron Nabors, 19, Jose Merel, 24 and Jason Cazares, 23. Jaron Nabors later testified against the other three in a deal with the DA for a lesser charge of manslaughter after police monitored a jailhouse letter and information gained during a conversation with one of the accused using a wiretap.
In their trial, the men did not contest that they had killed her, but used a variant of the gay panic defense and claimed that it was not unreasonable, pleading for manslaughter rather than murder. The jury however, deadlocked, and a mistrial recorded. The jury appears to have rejected this defense, but was unable to decide whether the murders were premeditated, and so whether to convict them of first degree murder or second degree murder. Prosecutors have announced they plan to go for first degree murder again at the retrial.
Gwen's mother, who referred to her child as her little "Angel", has said publicly that she would like her daughter's case to be influential in changing the disciplinary actions for hate crimes resulting in death to include the death penalty. Sylvia Guerrero and her brother David Guerrero have appeared publicly and before national media to express their grief and to denounce violence against youth faced with sexual identity conflicts.
Those who knew Gwen were joined by hundreds of sympathizers for her funeral located at St. Edward's Catholic Church in Newark. Following the ceremonies, there was a march through main streets leading to the community's mall attended by community dignitaries and leaders. Gwen was remembered again during the "Remembering Our Dead" vigils that took place in several major cities to commemorate the deaths of 27 transgendered people during the 12 month period that contained Gwen Araujo's own death.
Gwen was granted a posthumous name change on June 23, 2004.
- Gwen Araujo's Memorial
- Sex with the Imperfect Stranger - article on Gwen Araujo by Patrick Califia
- No issue of sexual deception - article by Dylan Vade, co-director of the Transgender Law Center
- Trained in the ways of men. 2007 Documentary filmmaker Shelly Prevost examines the brutal 2002 murder of Gwen Araujo
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