Two men arrested in connection with the brutal murder of two transgender women whose bodies were found in a burned out car

Puerto Rico trans women murdered

Two men have been arrested in connection with the murder of two trans women whose bodies were found in a badly burned car in Puerto Rico.

Authorities announced Thursday (April 30) that two men are being held been in connection with the deaths of Layla Peláez, 21, and Serena Angelique Velázquez, 32, two friends who lived in New York City.

The suspects, Juan Carlos Pagán Bonilla, 21, and Sean Díaz de León, 19, have been turned over to the FBI, Captain Teddy Morales said, via The Americano.

Bureau detectives took over the case Thursday morning following public pressure from LGBT+ activists, El Vocero reported. Agents said that there is enough evidence to consider the incident a hate crime.

Suspect in trans murders confessed to the killings.

Morales said that one of the suspects, Bonilla, admitted he killed the women upon discovering that they were trans while at Velázquez’s house in the municipality of Las Piedras.

The captain said the victims had been socialising with Bonilla, a bakery employee, and his friend de León on the night they were killed, according to one of the women’s Snapchat and Facebook accounts.

Morales said their bodies were found in a charred car under a bridge, in a desolate road in the Humacao neighbourhood just before April 22.

Advocates who identified the two victims said Peláez lived in the Bronx and Velázquez in Queens. Their families said that both had travelled to Puerto Rico and had planned to fly back later that month.

Peláez’s cousin, 29-year-old Luz Melendez, said the victim’s grandmother recognised her granddaughter’s burned car on the news and called the police.

Investigators first tied the men to the murders through security footage as prosecutors and police worked together to track the killers down.

Five trans people killed in Puerto Rico in 2020 alone. 

Peláez and Velázquez’s deaths ripped across the community, outraging activists who are steadily becoming numb to the relentless violence against trans people in Puerto Rico.

So far this year at least five trans people have been killed in the US territory.

Penélope Díaz Ramírez, 31, was killed in a correctional centre on April 13. Her death was not reported until April 27 by the Human Rights Campaign.

Police are investigating the murder of the trans woman Alexa Luciano Ruiz in Puerto Rico

Police are investigating the murder of the trans woman Alexa Luciano Ruiz in Puerto Rico. (Twitter/@DavidBegnaud)

Yampi Méndez Arocho, a 19-year-old trans man, was killed in Moca on March 5.

In February, trans homeless woman Alexa Negrón Luciano, a well-known figure on Puerto Rican social media, was shot to death. Her final moments, mercilessly recorded on social media, capture the apparent impunity anti-LGBT+ attackers feel in their crimes.

Many of the cases echoed the brutal murder of gender-nonconforming teen Jorge Steven, found decapitated, dismembered and set ablaze in 2009.

Puerto Rican activists have desperately warned: “They are hunting us.”

“There is no longer any doubt, this is an epidemic of anti-LGBT+ violence,” said Pedro Julio Serrano of Coalition for the Search for Equity, a Puerto Rican LGBT+ group.

He told PinkNews: These arrests are a step in the right direction, but these murders have to be prosecuted as hate crimes.

“One of the suspects confessed to have murdered them after they found out they were trans. They planned the murders, they took them for a ride to a lonely spot and burned them alive.

“We must warn that Puerto Rico prohibits the death penalty in our Constitution and we call upon federal authorities in Puerto Rico not to impose the death penalty on this case or any case.

“An eye for an eye will make us all blind. We urge the government to finish the investigations n the other seven murders of LGBTQ people on the island and serve justice for all of them.

“We cannot continue to be ignored like our lives don’t mean anything or have no value for the government of Wanda Vázquez who has not acknowledged this epidemic of anti-LGBTQ violence in Puerto Rico. We are as Puerto Ricans as everyone else.”