Sylvia Guerrero says her oldest son — a 17-year-old boy who dressed like a girl and lived in two worlds — was killed simply for being different.
Eddie Araujo and his family lived in Newark, Calif., a middle-class town of working families 35 miles east of San Francisco. Guerrero, who was raising her four children, said her son took a lot of abuse from other children.
"Kids teased him — called him fag, beat him up, looked at him different," Guerrero said. "He felt like he wasn't normal and that was very hurtful to me."
Police believe that Araujo's habit of cross-dressing, which he started in his teens, led to his death.
On Oct. 3, Araujo showed up at a house party in Newark dressed as a girl, wearing a skirt and shirt. He often went by the names "Gwen" or "Lida." At the party, Araujo had sexual relations with three men, who became enraged when they realized he was a boy, police said. Three men — Michael Magidson, 22, Jason Chase Nabors, 19, and Jose Merel, 24 — face murder charges in his death. A fourth man, Jason Cazares, 22, was also arrested last week on suspicion of murder, though police have not revealed his alleged role.
‘I’m Not Normal’
While he was growing up, and especially as he got into his teens, Araujo struggled with his identity, his mother said.
When Araujo used to say, "Mom I'm not normal," his mother always had the same response.
"I'd say, 'Yes you are. You're a child and you're my child,'" she said.
As a little boy, Araujo liked to do the things that other little boys enjoyed, and he was well-known and well-liked.
"I talked to some officers that remembered Eddie when he was young enough to be trading Pokemon cards," said Lt. Lance Morrison of the Newark Police Department.
Araujo also played Little League baseball, and "he was very good at it, but he was teased," Guerrero said.
"He was different," she said. "He was soft-spoken. He was gentle. He was more sensitive."
When Araujo was 14, he and his mother had a conversation that she had known would come.
"He said 'mom, you know I feel like a woman. I feel feminine,'" Guerrero recalled. "He said 'I don't connect with my anatomy.'"
Loved for Who He Was
Guerrero tried to comfort him, but her son sobbed as he told her, "I don't fit in anywhere and I feel like a freak," his mother said. "And I held him and I held him and I said, 'you know what, baby? You're not a freak.' So I gave him confidence to — the approval to be who he was."
Soon after, Araujo began to dress like a girl and call himself Gwen, after Gwen Stefani, the lead singer of the rock band No Doubt. But even as he transformed on the outside, Araujo remained a popular kid among the friends he had, who found respect for who he was becoming.
"A lot of people respected him for who he was," Araujo's friend Jamie Rodriguez said. "As Eddie, and when he turned into Gwen, they still respected him the same."
His mother agreed.
"They loved Eddie or Gwen for the person he was," she said. But that didn't hold true for everyone.
According to witnesses, Araujo's true gender was revealed after a sexual encounter. The night of his death, Araujo was beaten and strangled to death in the garage of the home where the party was held. His body was taken to the Sierra Nevada foothills.
A Bad Feeling
When her son didn't come home the night of the party, Guerrero said she was surprised, because he always checked in. By the next day, she feared the worst.
"I couldn't stay at work any more. I was uneasy. I had a bad feeling. And I went home," she said.
She paced the floor, sleepless and hoped for the best.
"Just hoping that he was out partying, just an extended day," Guerrero said. "But it was abnormal. Something he would never do."
Araujo's body was found buried in the Sierra Nevada foothills Oct. 16. After convincing the friend of one of the suspects to wear a wire, police arrested the three local men, none of whom had grown up with Araujo. They were charged with a hate crime, which would extend their murder sentence if they are convicted. A hearing is set for Dec. 13.
Butterflies Released at Service
Guerrero attended the arraignment with Los Angeles attorney Gloria Allred, who specializes in women's rights cases.
"People who are prejudiced or bigoted who think that a human being has to fit a stereotype reduce that human being to something that they're not," Allred said. "We're all entitled to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness and all of that was taken away from Eddie on that tragic night.
Led by hymns and signs of support, Araujo was laid to rest in Newark. The crowd of nearly 800 overflowed the church into the street. His mother made sure that he was buried as Gwen, in a black dress and gloves … a final sign that she loved him as he wanted to be.
At the end of the service they released butterflies, one for each year of his life.
"No one will ever hurt him again, Guerrero said. "He's my beautiful angel. I'll see him again"