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Purple balloons bounced in the summer wind in River Terrace Park Wednesday evening. Many of Taya Ashton’s family and friends wore purple as well. Others held signs and wore shirts with Ashton’s selfies in honor of the late transgender woman.
Ashton, who was 20 years old, was found murdered in her Suitland apartment Saturday. Prince George’s County Police said a District Heights man was arrested and has been charged in connection to her death.
But for her loved ones this service was about her life, not her death. Many of them described Ashton as ambitious, a jokester, and loving to those close to her. She wanted to be an entrepreneur. Ashton’s grandfather, Stuart Anderson, guided the memorial service. He told City Paper “[She] caught on real good, [she] was real smart and always doing something.”
He reminisced about how she would push him to go to memorial services for others in the community.
“Something happen [she] would say ‘Papa! We gotta go over there Papa!’” he said. “You got to make sure you’ve picked me up by four cause we got to be there by five for somebody else’s vigils. I’m going, I’m thinking, [she] don’t know nobody there, you know, but [she] got that kind of heart.”
Many spoke about gun violence and its effect on the DMV’s Black community. On the same weekend of Ashton’s murder, the killing of a 6-year-old girl and a shooting outside Nationals Park both made national headlines. Mayor Muriel Bowser cited these incidents in a letter to D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen, saying that she has directed the Metropolitan Police Department to use “any overtime necessary to meet our public safety needs.”
The Human Rights Campaign reports Ashton is the 31st transgender or gender non-conforming person to be killed in the United States in 2021. Prince George’s County Police say they don’t have evidence Ashton’s gender identity played into her death, but a motive hasn’t been released. 2021 may surpass last year’s record of 44 violent deaths of transgender Americans, according to tracking by The Advocate.
“Transgender individuals are experiencing violence locally and around the country almost every day,” D.C. trans activist Earline Budd, said in a statement to the Washington Blade. “There should be no rest in the LGBTQ community when something as tragic as this happens.”
The service then moved from the park to the Sussex Square Apartments off Brooks Drive—where Ashton lived and died. The purple balloons levitated above the crowd as Anderson asked if anyone wanted to speak.
“This your moment to say something about my grandchild, specifically, or the issues we have with guns, or—” A woman in the crowd cut Anderson off, shaking her head at the latter suggestion. “My mother spoke y’all, she said we gonna talk about Tay!”
Many friends and family of Ashton shared prayers, gospel songs, and appeals to God in their speeches.
“God, we ask you do what you do best,” said Wendell Whren, a friend of Anderson’s, “I’m giving you your word back! I trust you, so you got to show up for this family.”
He told the crowd: “Don’t be strong, but be encouraged, because this too shall pass … God got y’all man.”
As if on cue, rain began to fall as Ashton’s community prepared to release the balloons. Anderson counted up to three and let the purple balloons go. Ashton’s family and friends cheered as the balloons faded into the sky.
—Bailey Vogt (tips? firstname.lastname@example.org)
Correction: This story initially incorrectly identified Wendell Whren as Warren Whren. We regret the error.
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