Kedarie Johnson, a gender fluid high school student from Burlington, Iowa, was shot to death in 2016. Johnson was remembered for a beautiful smile and love of dance, and the teen’s slaying galvanized the community.
Kedarie’s case has now sparked federal intervention, as the Jeff Sessions’ Justice Department has “dispatched an experienced federal hate crimes lawyer,” to assist with the case’s state prosecution, according to The New York Times. The Times says that Sessions personally initiated the move.
Jorge “Lumni” Sanders-Galvez is accused of first-degree murder in the shooting death of Kedarie Johnson, who sometimes went by the name Kandicee. Jaron “Wikked West” Purham, 27, was accused by authorities of being a co-defendant in the case, according to the Hawk Eye. Both men are from St. Louis.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Kedarie Was Found Shot to Death in an Alley With a Bag Around His Head
Kedarie Johnson, 16, and a high school junior, “was shot to death the morning of” March 2, 2016, according to The Des Moines Register. “His body was found in an alley in Burlington’s South Hill neighborhood.”
The Des Moines Register described the victim “a gregarious, well-liked and well-known high school junior who was found shot to death, his torso marked by bullet holes and his body left in a patch of overgrown grass.”
Horrifically, reported Hawk Eye, Johnson “died of multiple gunshot wounds fired from a .357 handgun. Burlington police responded to the area after neighbors complained about hearing several gunshots. Johnson was found in bushes with a plastic trash bag around his head.”
In May 2017, the newspaper reported that a specific motive had not been revealed (The Washington Post reported on October 15 that one still had not been unveiled by authorities), but the federal involvement indicates that authorities are considering the murder for hate crime prosecution.
2. Johnson’s Mother Moved Her Family to Burlington to Escape Violence in Chicago & Kedarie Loved Dancing
Johnson “had this beautiful smile,” Shaunda Campbell, a counselor at Burlington High School, told The Des Moines Register, adding that “there wasn’t a mean bone” in Kedarie’s body.
According to The Advocate, Kedarie’s mother, Katrina, “moved her family from Chicago to Burlington, Iowa, to escape rising violence in the big city,” as Burlington is a town of only 50,000 people.
His family’s obituary says that Kedarie was “born July 5, 1999, in Chicago, IL, he was the son of Ivan Parker and Katrina Johnson. He was a Junior at Burlington High School. He enjoyed spending his time dancing, particularly at Maple Leaf Center. He loved singing, listening to music, doing his hair, hanging out with friends, and surfing the Internet.”
Graffiti of a painted rose was sprayed near where Kendarie was found with the words, “Justice 4 Kedarie. Mark 12:31 Love they neighbor,” according to the Advocate.
3. Johnson Was Considered Gender Fluid & Mourned by Many Classmates
USA Today reports that Johnson did not identify as transgender.
“Johnson, a well-liked junior at Burlington High whose death rocked his small community, did not identify specifically as transgender,” according to his mother, the newspaper reported. “He did enjoy dressing in women’s clothes and sometimes went by Kandicee with friends, but he always used the pronoun ‘he’ and went by Kedarie in most of his daily life.”
According to USA Today, Kedarie’s mother said he had girlfriends but “preferred boys.”
“Family and friends told local newspapers that he was gay, identified as both male and female and occasionally went by the name Kandicee,” The New York Times reported.
Johnson’s family believes the murder is a hate crime.
4. The Justice Department’s Action Is Considered Rare
According to The New York Times, the action taken by Sessions in the Sanders-Galvez prosecution is considered unusual.
“The Justice Department rarely assigns its lawyers to serve as local prosecutors, and only in cases in which they can provide expertise in areas that the federal government views as significant. By doing so in this instance, Mr. Sessions put the weight of the government behind a small-city murder case with overtones of gender identity and sexuality,” The Times reported.
According to USA Today, the federal prosecutor, Christopher J. Perras, “of the civil rights division’s criminal section was officially installed in documents filed in Iowa court” on October 14.
The local DA told The Des Moines Register, “The federal authorities are investigating the case as a federal hate crime, and so they would like to be part of the state case for seamless prosecution, should an indictment in federal court be handed down.” Heavy has placed a call into her office for further comment.
5. Ballistics Evidence Allegedly Ties the Suspects to the Crime
According to Hawk Eye, “ballistic tests have established the firearm used to kill Johnson was found by police in Purham’s possession during his arrest last year near St. Louis on unrelated charges.”
The trial for Jorge Sanders Galvez was postponed until late October.
However, according to The Hill, “Local investigators said evidence obtained during the investigation did not meet the state law that would allow prosecutors to file hate crime charges against Sanders-Galvez.”
Police have said they believe that the accused knew Johnson, but they did not provide additional details of that, according to The Associated Press.