D.C. police are investigating the unexplained death of a 30-year-old transgender woman, Skylar Harrison Reeves, whose partially naked body was found on a park bench in a secluded section of Marvin Gaye Park on Oct. 2.
A Metropolitan Police Department spokesperson told the Washington Blade detectives from the department’s natural death squad are investigating the case as detectives await a determination by the D.C. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of the cause and manner of death, which could take up to 60 days or more.
“This case remains under investigation, and at this time there is no additional information to provide,” said police spokesperson Elizabeth Grannis.
But Rhonda Hailes, Skylar’s aunt, told the Blade that a homicide detective came to her house in Capitol Heights, Md., where Skylar was living, to inform her that her niece was found deceased in a D.C. park with her belongings missing and the dress she was wearing pulled up over her head, with her breasts exposed.
Hailes said the detective, whose last name she recalls is McWilliams, came to her home on Monday, Oct. 2, shortly after he said her niece’s body was found in a secluded section of Marvin Gaye Park.
The park, which a Blade reporter visited on Oct. 16, consists of a long, narrow wooded area with a creek running in the middle with trees and bushes, park benches, a nature trail, and fitness equipment located throughout the park.
According to Hailes, Det. McWilliams said police think Skylar may have died from a drug overdose, but he didn’t say how police came to that possible conclusion. Hailes said the detective’s graphic description of what he saw after park employees initially found the body and called police leads her to believe her niece did not die from a drug overdose, even though she may have occasionally used drugs.
“Her dress was up over her head off her body, her hand was over her genitals, her breasts were exposed,” Hailes said the detective told her. “I have a history with drugs myself,’ Hailes said. “I’m not bragging about it, but I’ve ODed myself,” she told the Blade, adding that the circumstances surrounding the body of her niece made it unlikely if not impossible that the cause of death was a drug overdose.
“How was she outside partially naked?” said Hailes. “How was she there with her dress over her head and her tits exposed and her hand over her genital area? That does not happen when you OD,” she said, adding that someone experiencing an overdose loses consciousness and could not take off their clothes.
“And the way my niece was found, it was a hate crime,” Hailes said, pointing to additional details she said the police detective told her. “Her purse, her phone, her credit cards, all of that stuff was gone.”
And, according to Hailes, the detective also told her investigators could not find any footprints from the tennis shoes Skylar was wearing on the muddy ground along the path leading to where she was found.
As if that were not enough, Hailes said Skylar, who was gainfully employed at the time of her death, never hung out at Marvin Gaye Park, which has a reputation of being a place where transgender sex workers sometimes congregate. She said she went to the park a short time after her niece’s death and showed photos of Skylar to the people who were hanging out in the park. None of them said they recognized Skylar as among those who hang out at Marvin Gaye Park.
“So how did she get there?” Hailes continued, saying she asked the detective if someone might have carried her niece into the park to the site where her body was found. She said the detective would only say the investigation was continuing.
“I’m not saying my niece is perfect,” Hailes said. “Nobody is. But I will stake my life and tell you I know my niece. My niece never hung out on Division Avenue,” which runs along the border of part of Marvin Gaye Park and is an area where trans sex workers sometimes congregate.
Under longstanding D.C. police protocol, homicide detectives are almost always called to the scene of an unexplained death. But the homicide detectives usually turn over the case to the natural death squad detectives, who continue the investigation until the medical examiner makes a determination of the cause and manner of death. If the medical examiner rules the death a homicide, then the homicide unit takes over the investigation.
“She has been shunned and persecuted all her life for being who she is,” Hailes said of her niece Skylar. “Yet my niece, she was a beautiful beacon of life. She could have been in the darkest room and shined it bright.”
Transgender activist Iya Dammons, who heads the recently opened D.C. Safe Haven, which provides services to the local trans community as well as to the LGBTQ community, said Safe Haven helped to organize a candlelight vigil in honor of Skylar on Oct. 9 at the entrance to Marvin Gaye Park at the intersection of Division Avenue and Foote Street, N.E.
Dammons noted that Skylar’s death is among many deaths of transgender women of color in the D.C. area in recent years, some of which are related to a drug overdose, but others involve anti-trans violence.
“And my thought here is there is an outcry that this is happening, and I don’t think D.C. is actually paying attention to the crisis,” Dammons said.
Like all possible crimes that have yet to be solved, D.C. police ask anyone who has information that may help in their investigation to contact police at 202-727-9099. An anonymous tip can also be sent by text message to the police TEXT TIP LINE at 50411.