-- The transgender community and the family of a transgender woman named India Clarke are in mourning after police said she was found apparently beaten to death in a Tampa, Florida, park this past Tuesday morning.
Clarke, 25, is believed to be the 10th trans woman murdered in the U.S. this year, the majority of whom were trans women of color, according to reports published by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) and the Human Rights Campaign (HCR), along with the Trans People of Color Coalition (TPOCC). The NCAVP is an advocacy group that works to prevent and respond to LGBTQ+ and HIV-affected violence, and the HCR and TPOCC are also LGBTQ+ advocacy groups that partnered earlier this year to release a report detailing the violence transgender people face.
Clarke was discovered with "obvious signs of homicidal violence to the upper body," lying on the ground next to basketball courts at a park by Tampa's University Area Community Center, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office told ABC News today in a statement. Officials found the body after a center employee called authorities around 9 a.m. on Tuesday, the sheriff's office said.
Sheriff's officials said they are investigating Clarke's death as a homicide, though they are waiting for the completion of an autopsy to confirm the exact cause of death.
"I'm hurting all over right now," Clarke's mother, Thelma Clarke, 49, told ABC News today as she was on her way to make funeral arrangements. "I love my child. This was my baby, my youngest child. I just want to know who did this. I'm praying to God every night they find the person who took part of my life away from me. My daughter did not deserve this.
Thelma Clarke added that India Clarke "was a very loving, happy-going person" who "always tried to make people smile."
She added that India Clarke was born Samuel Elijah Clarke, but told the family a few years ago that she identified as a woman and wanted to be called India.
"We didn't like it in the beginning, but that's still our child, and we accepted the way she said she was and loved her, and still do now," Thelma Clarke said. "We called her India, though sometimes we'd call her Sammy depending on a certain situation, since that was what we called her when she was younger. We saw the life she wanted to live, and we respected that, and we were happy with it as long as she was happy with it."
Hundreds of people attended a vigil Wednesday night at the park where India Clarke was found dead, Thelma Clarke said, adding that another vigil organized by local transgender women in Tampa would take place downtown this Friday.
Clarke's death is being mourned nationwide by the transgender community, which has been calling for greater awareness and better response to the alarming rate at which transgender people, especially trans women of color, face violent discrimination. The community also has been calling for an end to the use of improper pronouns.
"India Clark's death is a tragedy, which is made worse by egregious misgendering by local police and media," read a statement by Chai Jindasurat, co-director of community organizing and public advocacy at the New York City Anti Violence Project. "We must honor India Clarke, and all of the transgender women, especially trans women of color, killed in this epidemic by supporting the leadership of transgender women, public awareness and respect campaigns, speaking out against this violence, and protecting transgender people from harassment and discrimination."
The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office referred to India Clarke as a "male dressed in women's clothing" in a news release. A spokesman for the department declined to comment on criticism about the gender reference and referred ABC News back to the news release.
"She was only 25 years old and clearly into all things beauty hair and makeup just like me," Cox wrote on Instagram. I can't help but feel like I'm next. That's why I do the work I do because the avg. life expectancy for someone like me is only 35 years old."
She added, "Just because we have a couple rich and famous trans people doesn't mean the work is over."
Cox tweeted news of India Clarke's death, saying, "Another sister #IndiaClarke whose light was forcibly extinguished way too soon," and including the hashtags #twoc, which refers to the term "trans women of color" and #girlslikeus.
Clarke is believed to be the ninth trans woman of color murdered this past year in the U.S., according to the NCAVP, which documented 20 anti-LGBTQ+ homicides in 2014, saying that "of those 20 homicides, a majority (55 percent) of victims were transgender women, and half (50 percent) were transgender women of color."
The NCAVP provides a 24-hour hotline, 212-714-1141, for anyone in the U.S. concerned about or facing LGBT- or HIV-related violence.