Black trans teen fatally shot while ‘heroically protecting a friend’ at a party

Ariyanna Mitchell is pictured looking at the camera in a selfie of the trans teen

A Black trans teen, who loved dancing and always had a “big smile on her face”, was fatally shot while defending a friend at a party in Virginia. 

Ariyanna Mitchell, 17, was violently killed while intervening in a fight during a party in Hampton, Virginia in the early morning hours of 2 April. The suspect in Mitchell’s death, Jimmy Leshawn Williams, allegedly shot the teen during an argument between Mitchell’s friend and his girlfriend, WAVY reported, deadnaming and misgendering the trans youth.

Mitchell’s friend told the outlet that she was the original target as Williams’ girlfriend was “going to get her boyfriend to come shoot me and everybody in this house”.

Court documents, seen by WAVY, said that witnesses told police that Williams, 19, questioned Mitchell’s gender identity before he allegedly shot her multiple times. 

Hampton Police released a statement about the incident and said Mitchell was pronounced dead at the scene, misgendering her. Police arrested Williams on 9 April and charged him with one count of murder and another count of use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. 

An online obituary for Mitchell described how the teen was a junior at East End Academy and was an “avid member of the Triple E (Electra Eagles Elite) Dance Academy”. 

“Ariyanna loved dancing and styling hair,” the obituary read. “She was truly unique, funny, and loved by everyone. There was never a dull moment when Ariyanna was around.”

Mitchell’s friend recalled how the trans teen always had a “big smile on her face”. 

Ariyanna Mitchell is among at least 12 trans, non-binary or gender non-conforming people who have been violently killed this year. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has been tracking these killings since 2013 and has confirmed at least 11 people within the trans community have been killed thus far in 2022. 

Tragically, these deaths often go underreported or misreported so the true toll of the “epidemic of violence” against the trans community in the US could be higher. 

Tori Cooper, director of community engagement of the HRC’s Transgender Justice Initiative, said Mitchell had her “whole life ahead of her as a talented dancer”, “beloved friend” and could have followed “whatever dreams she might have chosen to pursue”. 

“Instead, she died heroically protecting a friend, taking a bullet so her friend could escape,” Cooper said. “Her killer had the audacity to question her gender before shooting her, showing the horrific connection between transphobia and misogyny.”

She added: “We must all work to create a society free from the scourge of gun violence.”

The community has mourned across 2022: Amariey Lej, Duval PrincessCypress RamosNaomie SkinnerMatthew Angelo SpampinatoPaloma VazquezTatiana LabelleKathryn “Katie” NewhouseKenyatta “Kesha” WebsterMiia Love Parker and Fern Feather.