Arrests Made Over Trans Women Murders in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico

Two men have reportedly been arrested in relation to the murders of transgender women whose burned bodies were found in Puerto Rico on April 22.

The Puerto Rican authorities made the arrests of Juan Carlos Pagán Bonilla, 21, and Sean Díaz de León, 19 on April 29, but they have yet to face official charges, according to The New York Times.

Puerto Rico
Layla Peláez and Serena Angelique Velázquez

The arrests came one week to the day after 21-year-old Layla Peláez, of the Bronx, and 32-year-old Serena Angelique Velázquez, of Queens, were found in a burned car under a bridge on a remote road in Humacao, which is on the eastern side of the island. The women had been visiting their hometown in Puerto Rico at the time of their deaths.

Bonilla confessed to having a role in the killings, Puerto Rican LGBTQ activist Pedro Julio Serrano told Gay City News on May 1, and de Leon turned himself in.

While it was previously reported that the women were also found to have been shot, that detail is not confirmed, Serrano said. Police were awaiting autopsy results that they hoped would provide more information about how the women died.

Puerto Rico murders
Because the car was found in a remote area, the police indicated that there are no security cameras near the area that have captured the facts of the crime. (Supplied)

Bonilla and de León were with the women hours before they were found dead and they were featured in a recording on one of the women’s social media accounts, investigators said. Authorities are utilizing surveillance video footage and “scientific evidence” to make their case.

The Times reported that Captain Teddy Morales, who leads criminal investigations in the Humacao region, said the case is being classified as a hate crime because authorities determined the men were socializing with the women and set out to kill them when they learned they were transgender. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is assisting in the case.

Following the arrests, Serrano expressed some cautious optimism that justice will be done but maintained his calls for a thorough probe of the case and reminded authorities to be fair in their prosecution.

“These arrests are a step in the right direction, but these murders have to be prosecuted as hate crimes,” Serrano said.

“We must warn that Puerto Rico prohibits the death penalty in our constitution and we call upon federal authorities in Puerto Rico not to impose the death penalty on this case or any case. An eye for an eye will make us all blind.”

Serrano is also maintaining a spotlight on other murders on the island, where more than a half-dozen LGBTQ people have been slain in the past year. He has often voiced concerns that probes into the deaths of LGBTQ individuals on the island have either been botched by authorities or not investigated as thoroughly as possible.

“We urge the government to finish the investigations in the other seven murders of LGBTQ people on the island and serve justice for all of them,” Serrano stressed on May 1.