The third of four victims allegedly killed by Border Patrol agent Juan David Ortiz, who authorities are calling a serial killer, has been identified as 28-year-old transgender woman Janelle Ortiz. Though they share the same last name, she was not related to her killer.
Janelle was one of two victims authorities believe were killed just hours after a fifth victim, Erika Pena, escaped and gave a description to police, and before Ortiz was apprehended.
Webb County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Fred Garza identified Janelle as the third victim at a news briefing on Saturday, using her birth name, or what’s known in the trans community as her “deadname.” Several publications have followed suit. GLAAD has published guidelines for reporting involving trans people who have been the victims of violence, urging reporters not to do this. “Disregarding the victim’s gender identity and misgendering them in news reports adds insult to injury, compounding the tragedy by invalidating the person’s lived reality,” they write.
ProPublica reported in August that 65 law enforcement agencies across the country had investigated the murders of transgender people since January 1st, 2015, and “in 74 of 85 cases, victims were identified by names or genders they had abandoned in their daily lives.” This practice, they reported, is not only painful for the community and disrespectful to the victims, but can actually slow down criminal investigations because key witnesses and people who knew the victims might only know them by their chosen names.
Actress and activist Laverne Cox shared on social media following the ProPublica article that, years ago, when she was contemplating suicide, she planned to leave several notes specifying that she should be referred to as a woman in reports of her death, and as Laverne Cox only.
“Being misgendered and deadnamed in my death felt like it would be the ultimate insult to the psychological and emotional injuries I was experiencing daily as a black trans woman in New York City, the injuries that made me want to take my own life,” she wrote.
The way trans women are identified is generally part of the media conversation when they’re targeted and murdered specifically for being trans, which happens all too often. But in this case, since Janelle was one of five women targeted not for her gender identity, but for her profession as a sex worker, the important details of her accurate name and gender are unfortunately being swept aside in much of the coverage.
All five of Ortiz’s victims, including the woman who escaped and led authorities to him, were sex workers, some of whom Ortiz knew personally. Ortiz told authorities his goal was to “eradicate all the prostitutes,” and it appears he would befriend them to gain their trust before driving them to remote areas and shooting them. Ortiz has confessed to his crimes and been charged with four counts of murder, one count of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and one count of unlawful restraint. He has not yet pleaded to the charges.
Garza said in a press conference Monday that Ortiz attempted to commit “suicide by cop,” when he was apprehended, positioning himself in a parking lot and hoping authorities would think the cellphone he had on him was a gun and shoot him. He was apprehended without incident.
Graza also said that it’s unclear whether Ortiz used government resources to track his victims, though Webb County Judge Tano Tijerina told reporters that Ortiz used the information he had access to through his job to monitor the ongoing investigation and avoid arrest.
Ortiz is the second Border Patrol agent in Laredo this year to be arrested for murder. Ronald Anthony Burgos-Aviles was charged in June with killing his girlfriend and their one-year-old son. Authorities are seeking the death penalty in that case.