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A transgender Missouri woman was shot to death last week, allegedly by a man she'd met through a dating app, though it's unclear if the suspect in the case will face hate crimes charges in relation to the killing.
Police responding to reports of a shooting at a Springfield apartment shortly before 7 a.m. on Thursday found Dominique Lucious, 26, suffering from gunshot wounds. She was pronounced dead at the scene. Multiple Smith and Wesson shell casings were retrieved by Springfield Police detectives, according to a probable cause statement obtained by Oxygen.com.
A witness who lived in the apartment told police that Lucious had stayed overnight and knocked on his bedroom door early that morning to use the bathroom so she could “freshen up” because she was expecting “someone” at the apartment. The man said he fell back asleep, but was awoken by gunshots.
The unnamed witness said he later saw a man standing over Lucious in the apartment's living room. That person, who authorities subsequently identified as Charles Nelson, allegedly warned the unidentified witness “not to look at him” as he left the home. The suspect then fled down an alley in a black car, detectives said.
Surveillance videos later captured the vehicle, which appeared to be a Ford sedan, blowing a stop sign and a red light nearby, according to the probable cause statement. Police later confirmed Nelson, 28, owns a 2014 Ford Focus that matched the vehicle seen on video.
According to the witness with whom Lucious had been staying, she may have been involved in sex work, investigators said.
According to police, Nelson and Lucious first met on the dating app Plenty of Fish earlier that day. They allegedly then began exchanging direct text messages around 6 a.m. The most recent text message on Lucious’ cell phone, which was retrieved from the crime scene, was sent from Nelson, according to the probable cause statement.
Lucious asked Nelson “how much of a controlled substance could be received for an apparent sexual act,” police wrote in the probable cause statement. Lucious, who provided the apartment address, said she needed $40 to pay a phone bill.
The two also traded photos. Nelson allegedly sent sexually explicit images of himself to Lucious wearing black Joe Boxer underwear with “yellow smiley faces,” according to the probable cause statement.
Nelson was arrested later that day after police were able to link him to the car seen in surveillance footage. He allegedly admitted to speaking to someone through Plenty of Fish early that morning, a woman he described as a heavy-set and white, according to police, but denied communicating with anyone else through the app. He also denied sending text messages to anyone that day except for family members. During evidence processing, detectives observed Nelson was wearing the same boxer briefs depicted in the image sent to Lucious’ phone. Police ultimately obtained a search warrant and seized a pistol from Nelson’s home that matched the rounds collected from the crime scene, according to the probable cause statement. Police also located a pair of bloody shoes at Nelson’s home.
Nelson was subsequently arrested and charged with second-degree murder and armed criminal action. He was booked into a Greene County detention center on April 8, according to online jail records.
According to Lucious' Facebook profile she was originally from St. Louis. Friends and loved ones left a number of emotional tributes on her wall since her death.
“Many don’t get to live in their authentic truth,” Gary Anglemyer-Jackson wrote on April 8. “You were fierce, glam, and hunny gorgeous! I love you now, tomorrow and forever.”
Lucious’ murder marks the 14th transgender killing — and the ninth murder of a Black trans woman — in 2021, according to the National Black Justice Coalition.
“Black trans women, like every other community of women, should feel safe in the pursuit of the joy and fulfillment that each of us as humans both need and desire and it should not be the case that online encounters lead to death or violence for any member of our community,” David J. Johns, the civil rights organization’s executive director, said in a statement.
Johns criticized Plenty of Fish and other dating apps for not doing enough to keep its users, and particularly trans women, safe from potential harm.
“My hope is that every online dating platform is doing much more to ensure the safety of the users, especially Black trans and non-binary users,” Johns added. “We have failed Dominique and my hope is we do right by her and her sisters in her death.”
Authorities didn't disclose if Lucious' murder is being investigated as a hate crime. However, a spokesperson for the Springfield Police Department didn't rule out the possibility of additional charges either.
"We are keeping all possibilities open at this time," Officer Jasmine Bailey told Oxygen.com on Tuesday.
The FBI acknowledged it was aware of the case this week but declined to comment on the investigation.
Lucious’ death also comes at a time of rising violence targeting transgender and gender non-conforming people across the country. Last year, at least 44 transgender or gender non-conforming individuals were murdered across the country, according to the Human Rights Campaign, the highest figure since the organization began tracking such violence in 2013.
“Our hearts are broken for Dominique, whose bright beautiful light was extinguished far too soon, and for her family facing this horrific tragedy,” PROMO, a local LGBTQ advocacy group, also wrote on Facebook last week.
The organization described Lucious’ death as a “hate-fueled” killing.
“Everyday we work to end the stigma around transgender individuals,” the statement said. “Such stigma fuels a culture of fear: transphobia, biphobia, and homophobia sit at the intersection of racism and misogyny, and fosters violence. If we are not working to end the societal violence that ended Dominique’s life, we are part of the problem.”
Nelson was arraigned on Monday and pleaded not guilty. A circuit judge denied his bond, according to court filings.
Nelson’s next court appearance is scheduled for May 3, 2021. No attorney information was immediately available for him.
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