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Missing transgender woman found dead in ‘crude’ North Carolina grave

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Elisha Walker (Screenshot/WSOCTV)

The body of Elisha Walker, a 20-year-old transgender woman who had been missing for almost a year, was found in a “crude grave” in Johnston County, North Carolina. According to advocates and local media, the discovery was made more than 100 miles from Walker’s home in Salisbury, North Carolina.

Related: Phoenix woman Kandis Capri killed as transgender murders continue

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A Latin Kings gang member, Angel Dejesus Arias, 23, was arrested and charged with killing Walker and stealing her car, reports said on Thursday. He was being held without bond.

Amid reports from Detroit, Texas and Phoenix of the deaths of three more black, transgender women, some observers have placed the number of transgender women killed this year at 16.

In a statement, transgender Human Rights Campaign staff member Laya Monarez said: “Even as we are seeing an increase in transgender visibility through a range of inspiring national media stories, including Caitlyn Jenner’s, the levels of violence and harassment transgender people face – particularly transgender women and transgender women of color – constitute a national crisis .”

This week, Texas police announced an investigation into the death of 22-year-old Shade Schuler, whose body was found badly decomposed in a field in Dallas. It took almost three weeks to identify her remains.

Activists in Michigan were also asking for help from Detroit law enforcement, after 20-year-old Amber Monroe was shot and killed in a city park. She was the fifth transgender woman to be killed in Palmer Park since 2014.

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In Phoenix on Tuesday night a 35-year-old transgender woman, Kandis Capri, was shot dead .

Walker was reported missing in November 2014, after her family had not heard from her since 24 October, the Salisbury Post reported. Police gave local media information about Walker’s disappearance in an effort to generate leads, but few were forthcoming until Walker’s burnt-out 2000 Pontiac Sunfire was discovered in an open field in Sampson County, police said in a release.

Arias had lived in a house in Salisbury that Walker was known to frequent, before moving to Johnston County, more than 100 miles away, where he was arrested on unrelated drug charges. Rowan County police obtained a search warrant for a Johnston County house, they said. They discovered Walker’s body in a “small depression” behind it.

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Arias will not face hate crimes charges over Walker’s death. North Carolina does not have a hate crimes statute.

Related: LGBT activists call for new focus on violence against transgender community

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Like other police departments around the country, the Rowan County sheriff’s office has repeatedly referred to Walker with the incorrect pronoun “him”, despite it being widely acknowledged that Walker identified as a transgender woman. The department did not return a request for comment.

Condolences for those close to Walker poured on to her Facebook page late this week, after news of Arias’ arrest broke in the local community. Those posting to the page described Walker as joyful.

“My heart hurts because you were such a kind spirit that never bothered anyone,” said one poster, named as Fab Oz, on the page .

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“You always kept a smile on your face regardless of how you felt. I pray your soul rest in peace and justice is served.”

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2015

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