In October 2002, a teenage girl was brutally murdered in a small Northern California town. Seventeen-year-old Gwen Araujo was bound, bludgeoned, and strangled before her body was left in a shallow grave in the Sierra Nevada foothills.
Araujo was biologically male; her given name was Edward. But at the age of fourteen, she came out to her family, and began dressing as a girl. “I told him, ‘Whether you’re a man or a woman I’m going to love you,’” said Araujo’s mother, Sylvia Guerrero.
The summer before her murder, Araujo became friends with four men in their late teens and early twenties: Jaron Nabors, Michael Magdison, and the brothers Paul and Jose Merel. It was at a party at the Merels’ house in early October that Jose Merel – who, like Magdison, had had sexual encounters with Araujo – began asking her if she was male or female. His brother’s girlfriend thought they should “check” – so she put her hands up Araujo’s skirt and discovered that she was biologically male.