Authorities were searching for a suspect after a transgender activist was found shot and killed in McAlester, Oklahoma, while on his way to pickup a taxi fare.
Dustin James Parker, 25, was found dead Wednesday with the windows of his car shot out after a 911 caller reported gunshots in the early morning, NBC affiliate KJRH of Tulsa reported. McAlester Mayor John Browne reassured the community that law enforcement was doing all it could to find a suspect.
"McAlester lost a supremely nice person who had such a positive outlook in his life," Browne said in a statement. "He loved his job especially that it allowed him to help people. His passing is a loss for our community."
Rover Taxi owner Brian West, 42, said in an interview Saturday that Parker was the first employee hired for the company, which launched in September. Parker, who was married with four children, had struggled previously juggling multiple jobs.
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"I called him and said I have this idea — I want you to help me build this. And he did," West said.
The two friends knew each other for about a year and worked together to launch a McAlester chapter of Oklahomans for Equality in May. Despite their short time together, West said, Parker felt like family.
"You couldn't ask for a better friend. You couldn't ask for a better husband. You couldn't ask for a better employee," West said. "He was an all-around awesome person."
The Human Rights Campaign, or HRC, said in statement that it suspected that Parker's might be the first violent death of a transgender or gender non-conforming person in the new year. HRC tracked violent deaths of at least 25 transgender or gender non-conforming people in 2019.
The organization has documented more than 150 killings of trans and gender-nonconforming people since the beginning of its "Violence Against the Transgender Community" project.
"We say 'at least' because too often these stories go unreported — or misreported," HRC said Thursday. "These victims are not just numbers or headlines. They were real people worthy of dignity and respect, of life and love."