Trans woman ‘with heart of gold’ killed in mass shooting after trying to stop gunman

Headshot of Jo Acker posing for the camera

A “heroic” woman who risked her life to save others in a deadly shooting in Boise, Idaho, has become the 42nd trans person violently killed in the US this year.

Jo Acker, described by those who knew her as having an “enormous heart of gold”, was killed Monday morning (25 October) after she saw a man shooting Boise Towne Square patrons.

Acker, a 26-year-old security guard at the mall, was working when Jacob Bergquist, 27, of Boise, reportedly opened fire inside the mall, injuring four civilians.

At around 2pm, a guard on the ground floor of the two-story mall “contacted” the suspect near a department store on the west side of the building.

The gunman shot and killed the guard, the Boise Police Department said.

Acker ran towards the suspect to stop him, according to 11 News, and was shot dead.

Acker’s family says that her “heroic” actions likely saved lives.

“Confronting someone whom she viewed to be a threat to others or a bully was entirely within her character even prior to enlisting,” Tiffany Luna, Acker’s oldest sister, said.

A 23-year-old woman and a 52-year-old woman were injured inside the mall, and a 68-year-old woman was shot in her vehicle outside the mall, Boise police said. A police officer was also injured by gunfire.

Jo Acker remembered by family for her ‘selflessness and courage’

Born in Seattle, Washington, before moving to Colorado Springs to be with family, Acker later moved to Boise to finish high school before enlisting in the army in 2013.

A keen Taekwondo instructor, Acker always sought to make those in her life feel safe and loved – but was never afraid to come back with a “snarky comeback” every now and then, her sister, Karyn Kennedy, wrote in a GoFundMe.

Acker’s loved ones say they want her passing to be a moment of love, not tragedy.

“We have had people messaging us to tell us how she helped them,” Luna added, “how she saved them, and we are so thankful for the love and support we are receiving.”

Acker is survived by her three-year-old daughter, Everay. Her five older sisters have since launched a GoFundMe to raise money “to help set up a bright future for Everay”, Kennedy said.

“Jo will be greatly missed,” she said.

“While others fell back, Jo moved forward,” someone wrote on the GoFundMe. “Thank you for your selflessness and courage.”

“Never should one have to – or does one expect – when they say goodbye to their loved one before going to work or the mall that they’ll get a call like they did today,” wrote Boise mayor Lauren McLean on Facebook.

“I want to thank the shop keepers and others in the mall for acting quickly to take care of those who were there. In a tough and chaotic moment, you showed how much you care and what you’re willing to do to care for strangers.”

Boise law enforcement responded to reports of shots fired at the ball at around 1:50pm, police said. Callers informed dispatchers that an armed individual had stormed the premises and opened fire.

Bergquist fired several rounds in the mall, shattering a glass lift in the process and killing Robert Padilla Arguelles, 49, of Rupert. After police arrived at the square, they exchanged gunfire before an officer shot the killer through the window of his car.

Jo Acker is, at the very least, the 42nd trans, non-binary or gender non-conforming person to have been killed this year in a wave of violence that the American Medical Association has declared an “epidemic“.

The Human Rights Campaign warns that the death tally is likely even higher, given that data provided by law enforcement officials can be incomplete and that many crimes go unreported.

Across 2021, the community has mourned: Tyianna AlexandraSamuel Edmund Damián ValentínBianca BankzDominique JacksonFifty BandzAlexus BraxtonChyna CarrilloJeffrey ‘JJ’ Bright, Jasmine Cannady, Jenna Franks, Diamond ‘Kyree’ SandersRayanna PardoDominique LuciousJaida PetersonRemy FennellTiara BanksNatalia Smüt, Iris SantosTiffany ThomasJahaira DeAlto BalenciagaKeri WashingtonSophie Vásquez, Danny HensonWhispering Bear Spirit, Serenity HollisOliver ‘Ollie’ TaylorThomas HardinPoe BlackNovaa Watson, Aidelen Evans, Taya AshtonShai VanderpumpTierramarie Lewis, Miss CoCo, Pooh Johnson, Disaya Monaee, Brianna HamiltonKiér Laprí Kartier, Mel GrovesRoyal Poetical Starz and Zoella Rose Martinez.

“Losing yet another sister in the transgender community to such violent means is disheartening, and infuriating,” Tori Cooper, who helms the HRC’s Transgender Justice Initiative, told PinkNews.

“The senseless violence against our community is alarming, but what is also alarming is the lack of comprehensive gun control legislation that puts all communities in immediate danger.”

For Cooper, this specter of violence against trans people is not surprising. Three-fourths of confirmed homicides against trans people have involved a gun, according to the 2017-2019 Transgender Homicide Tracker.

Racism can compound this daunting figure – nearly eight in 10 homicides of Black trans women involve a gun.

“If we are to draw attention to the frightening rate of anti-trans fatal violence,” they said, “we also need to draw attention to the dire need for gun control laws in this country that will ultimately not only keep our transgender community safer but all communities safer.”