A trans woman fatally stabbed in her New Westminster home Sept 29 is being remembered as a kind, generous and spiritual person who struggled to overcome persecution.
Police have identified the victim as January Marie Lapuz, 26.
“January was an amazing person,” says friend Alex Sangha. “She faced so much rejection, so much ridicule, but she was so happy.”
“It’s very sad. It’s very hurtful. It’s very painful,” says Sangha, who is also the founder of Sher Vancouver, where Lapuz was an executive member. “She was a great friend and a good person.”
The RCMP Integrated Homicide Investigation Team (IHIT) says the New Westminster Police Department received a call just after 10pm on Sept 29 to assist paramedics with a stabbing victim in the 500 block of 3rd Ave.
Lapuz was taken to a nearby hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 5:44am.
“The investigation remains active and ongoing as we continue to look for a motive and a suspect in this case. We also need the public’s assistance as the search continues for a male who witnesses spotted running from the scene Saturday night,” says RCMP Sergeant Jennifer Pound.
Pound tells Xtra she can’t go into details about the death or speculate on any motive at this point.
“To say something such as a hate crime would be speculation at this point,” she says.
Pound says Lapuz “was working in the sex trade to some degree.”
“I believe there was advertisements online,” she says. “It’s a high-risk lifestyle, no doubt about that.”
Lapuz’s Facebook page indicates she was born in the Philippines and spoke English, Tagalog and Chinese.
Sangha says Lapuz was adopted and overcame obstacles as an immigrant, as a transgender person and as a person living in poverty.
Lapuz was actively involved in the trans and queer immigrant community. In April 2009, she became the first transgender person to hold an executive position with Sher Vancouver, a support group for South Asian gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
“It was the first time in her life someone gave her a chance,” Sangha says. “She treated everyone with respect and dignity. She saw value in everyone. It’s a huge loss.”
Sangha says Lapuz changed Sher Vancouver and taught people about acceptance and not being judgmental.
When Sher held its Bollywood nights, Lapuz would perform as Beyoncé, Sangha says, adding that she stole the show on Sher’s Pride float.
“She would grab the microphone from our DJ and get the whole crowd riled up,” he says.
“She was a shining light in Sher Vancouver,” he says, noting she would also host the group’s social events.
He says Lapuz had faced struggles living on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. But, he says, when she had things to donate or wanted to help others, it was there that she went. “She was from that population and she would give to people who needed it,” he says. “She believed in god; she believed in faith. That’s what got her through a lot of difficult times.”
Police are looking for an Asian male seen fleeing the scene. He is in his mid-20s, approximately five foot five, with short black hair and a muscular build. He was wearing a black muscle shirt and grey shorts.
In a press release, police first identified Lapuz by her male birth name and then noted she had legally changed her name four years ago to January Marie.
Pound says police were just going by the victim’s birth name. “We were going by doctors’ reports and information we were obtaining inside the residence,” she says.
She says Lapuz’s family confirmed her legal name change several days before police released the identification.
“She identified as a woman,” Sangha says.
David Eby, of the BC Civil Liberties Association, says trans people continually face issues with law enforcement regarding identification.
“The implicit understanding in the [police] release is that the name change wasn’t legitimate,” Eby says. “It’s definitely an issue for law enforcement . . . and it isn’t going away.” RCMP spokesperson Sergeant Peter Thiessen says the integrated homicide team has the discretion to write its press releases as it sees fit.
Asked how much sensitivity training RCMP receive around trans issues, Thiessen says he’ll have to look into it.