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June 12, 2020

Death of transgender woman ruled a homicide; gruesome slaying shakes community

Dominique Rem’mie Fells 'lived her truth so loud that you could hear her a mile away,' friend says

LGBTQ Investigations
Dominique Rem'mie Fells Contributed image/Swiger Photography

Dominique "Rem'mie" Fells body was found Monday, June 8, 2020, in the Schuylkill River near Bartram’s Garden Dock & Community Boathouse. She was found with her legs severed and injuries to her face and head.

The body of Dominique "Rem'mie" Fells was pulled from the water near Bartram’s Garden Dock & Community Boathouse earlier this week and on Friday her death was ruled a homicide.

LATEST: Arrest warrant issued for suspect in killing of transgender woman Dominique Rem’mie Fells

Fells, a 27-year-old transgender woman, suffered trauma to her face and head, and her legs were severed mid-thigh, according to Philadelphia Police Chief Inspector Scott Small.

The gruesomeness of the crime has shaken the LGBT community during the usually celebratory Pride Month. Deja Lynn Alvarez, a trans activist who first shared the news of Fells’ death on social media, said, “We need to come together and keep our focus on yet another black trans woman murdered.”

Philadelphia, like most major cities, has experienced a surge of violence against transgender women of color, most notably the killings of Shantee Tucker in Hunting Park in 2018 and Michelle “Tamika” Washington last year in North Philly. Both women were shot to death.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, transgender women of color face overwhelming threats of violence with their average life span being just 35 years.

“Rem’mie’s life was cut short,” said Kendall Stephens, a friend of the victim who met Fells at Morris Home, a residential recovery program in Philadelphia that offers services specifically for trans- and gender-variant people. 

Originally from York, Fells was a social butterfly who was very close to her mother, Stephens says: “She lived her truth so loud that you could hear her a mile away.”

Like many young trans people, Stephens said she faced what Fells called challenges and “demons." Fells was making plans to go back to school with dreams of being a fashion designer, Stephens said. She was also a dancer and artist, a vibrant person, making it that much harder for those who knew her to accept that she’s the latest victim of violent crime.

Her story resonates because it’s all too familiar. “We’re devastated,” Stephens said. “We live with a constant fear of being assaulted and being murdered before our time. It seems to be a person of trans experience of color, that’s like death sentence."

As the Black Lives Matter movement gains momentum after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, there are still many within the black trans community who say they feel left out. “People need to know when we say Black Lives Matter, we mean all black lives, not just cis-gender black lives,” Stephens said. “It is time for people to realize that we’re human beings, too. Trans lives matter, too.”

There are resources within the community to help people cope with the news of Fells' death. TransWay, a community group at the William Way LGBT Center, is hosting Zoom meetings each Thursday. The safe space is designed for trans and non-binary people to talk openly about their experiences and to, in the cast of last night’s meeting, process grief.

The Office of LGBT Affairs also released a statement, saying, in part:

As thousands take to the streets to proclaim that Black Lives Matter, it is critical we remember that this includes black trans lives. Dominique Rem’mie Fells’ life mattered.

We are reminded with this, and countless other painful losses — especially within our transgender communities — that there is much left to do until we achieve full equality, respect, and support for us all. The murder of transgender people — especially those of color — is truly an epidemic, and a crisis that we cannot afford to allow to persist any further.

We are committed to ensuring that acts of discrimination, bigotry, and hatred are never tolerated in the city of Philadelphia. Know that we see you, we grieve with you, and we join you in solidarity at this time of great sadness.

The office is organizing an event to honor Fells, the details of which will be shared on social media. Her family and friends have also set up a GoFundMe page to help pay for funeral expenses. Within the first few hours of its launch, so many people donated to the fund that it achieved its goal more than 10 times over.

“Dominique, who often went by the name Rem'mie, was truly one of a kind,” her family wrote on the page. “We can assure all of you that we will not stop until her killers are found and justice is served.”

Reactions to the murder have been far reaching. Friday on Facebook, State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta wrote of Fells, “She’s not just another name. Her life had value and it was stolen. She deserved so much better.” Mayor Kenney also tweeted about Fells, saying, “I join our LGBTQ and black communities in mourning the loss of Dominque Rem’mie Fells.”

Her death has also hit very close to home.

“Everyone who knew Rem’mie knew the potential she had. She was ready to bloom,” Stephens said “And a monster took that from her.”

If you have any information about Fells death, please contact the Philadelphia policeIf you are trans or you know anyone who is trans and needs support, contact the Trans Lifeline at (877) 565-8860.