Gwen Amber Rose AraujoAge 17
3 Oct 2002
Newark, California (USA)
Beaten and strangled
TDoR list ref: tdor.info/3 Oct 2002/Gwen Araujo
Gwen was beaten and strangled to death at a house party by Michael Magidson, Jose Merél, Jaron Nabors and Jason Casarez after they discovered that she was transgender.
After killing her, they wrapped her body in a blanket and buried it in the Sierra Nevada foothills.
Sylvia Guerrero had never even heard the word “transgender” until her 17-year-old daughter Gwen Araujo, born a son named [deadname], was brutally murdered. Today she’s an admired activist for transgender causes, even though the horror of Gwen’s fate has upended her life.
Gwen, often called a woman, was really just a 90-pound girl with no chance against the four drunken young men, including two who had been sexually intimate with her, Guerrero said. They viciously beat and strangled Gwen to death at a Newark house party on Oct. 4, 2002, after they confirmed she was biologically male.
Eventually two men were convicted of murder and two of manslaughter.
Defendants Michael Magidson and Jose Merel claimed a "gay panic" defense but were convicted of second-degree murder in a retrial in 2005. The first trial in 2004 had ended in a mistrial after the jurors were unable to arrive at a unanimous decision that it'd been first-degree murder.
Defendant Jason Cazares negotiated a plea deal with prosecutors at the end of his second mistrial and pleaded no contest to manslaughter in late 2005. In January 2006, all three men were sentenced: Magidson and Merel received the mandatory sentences of 15 years-to-life, while Cazares, under his plea agreement, received six years.
A fourth man, Jaron Nabors, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in 2003 and testified against the other three defendants. He was later sentenced to 11 years.
Araujo's murder helped bring awareness to the incidence of violence against transgender people and the “panic defense.” In 2006, California enacted the Gwen Araujo Justice for Victims Act. The law allows a judge to instruct jurors not to consider their anti-LGBT biases during deliberations. That same year, Lifetime aired an original movie, “A Girl Like Me: The Gwen Araujo Story”. The case was also the subject of a 2007 documentary, “Trained in the Ways of Men”.
A year after her murder, Horizons Foundation created a fund to reduce the ignorance and hatred that caused this terrible hate crime in the Bay Area by supporting, through annual modest-sized grants, school-based programs in the nine-county Bay Area that promote understanding of transgender people and issues.
Twenty years after Gwen's murder, community members gathered in San Francisco to remember her.
Sylvia Guerrero had never heard the word “transgender” until four men murdered her daughter.
Gwen Araujo’s brutal death two decades ago drew international attention and prompted the passage of a law in her name, as well as a movie about her life. In court, two of the men who strangled, beat and buried the trans teenager claimed “gay panic.”
Many have since forgotten Gwen. And likely even more have forgotten the woman at the center of the media storm and trial proceedings that followed: Gwen’s mother.
After the initial deluge of sympathy letters stopped arriving and donations dried up, Guerrero was left with an eviction notice, no source of income and unimaginable trauma.
“When they killed her,” Guerrero said, “they killed a part of me.”
On Tuesday, trans rights advocates and Gwen’s loved ones will gather at San Francisco’s Main Library to honor her legacy on the anniversary of her murder. Trans people are being killed in record numbers. At least 48 trans people were killed in 2021, making it the deadliest year for transgender people in the United States, where the majority of victims are Black and Latinx.
Gwen’s mother is one of the victims that transphobic violence leaves behind. Her loss has multiplied outside of the public eye in a system unequipped to support her.