Ava Le’Ray Barrin was a “brave young woman who feared nothing, nobody, and especially not being herself,” according to her online obituary. Only 17, she was coming into her own, as sentiment after sentiment repeats in post after post. She embodied a life full of possibility.
But that ended abruptly on the morning of June 25, as gunfire halted a promising life and produced a tragic outcome—the 14th transgender woman, and youngest transgender woman, killed in 2017.
According to police, Barrin was shot in the upper left side of the chest and was not breathing when police arrived at Riverview Apartments on College Avenue. Jalen Breon Brown, 21, who also identifies as a transgender woman, was charged with murder and aggravated assault and, at press time, remained in the Clarke County Jail without bond. Brown claims self defense in the shooting of Barrin.
Initial reports of Barrin’s killing failed to mention she identified as a woman, as the Athens-Clarke County police report listed the victim as Rayquann Deonte Jernigan. (The responding officer was aware Barrin identified as a woman, but ACCPD is required to use people’s legal names in official reports, said public information officer Epifiano Rodriguez.)
Upset at other media outlets for “deadnaming” her—a frowned-upon practice in the transgender community—Barrin’s friends and family members declined to speak with Flagpole.
“Like too many transgender victims of violence, Barrin’s name and gender were misreported by local law enforcement and media outlets,” the Human Rights Campaign said in a statement. “Announcements that fail to respect transgender victims’ identities not only upset the victims’ loved ones, but may lead to additional violence by creating the perception that law enforcement will not protect transgender people or pursue their attackers. HRC extends its sincere condolences to Ms. Barrin’s family and friends.”
Brown, who is from Athens, was arrested twice before, according to law enforcement documents, but does not have a history of violent crime. She was charged with criminal trespass by ACC police in March 2014 and entered in the state pretrial diversion program. She was arrested in Oconee County in May 2016 on a misdemeanor shoplifting charge.
In a candlelight memorial service on June 26 for Berrin, her friends remembered her as a brave woman who announced her transition to friends in late 2016, according to mic.com. “We knew Ava was happy in her own skin,” said Nickenson Guillaume, who organized the service and met Berrin last year. That was a memory echoed in an obituary posted on the website Bazaar Daily News, which noted: “If I could find a word to describe who Ava was, I’d say unapologetically real. She was an amazing girl who didn’t deserve to die, especially not the way she did. Perhaps the most amazing thing about Ava was that she’d befriend just about anyone—as long as you were nice to her in return.”
A GoFundMe site was created in Barrin’s honor “for the friends and loved ones who have asked if any help can be provided” by her sister Keke Rhodes, with a set goal of $5,000. Nearly $4,000 was raised as of last Wednesday, which included a $1,500 donation by Solange Knowles, a singer and actress who is the younger singer of Beyonce. Jamie Roberts, a grand marshal for the Pride parade, held a moment of silence for Barrin at the Atlanta Pride Grand Marshal Reception last week.
All 14 of the transgender women killed this year have been people of color—12 African Americans, one Latina and one American Indian.
“What saddens and infuriates us as an organization that seeks to represent and empower black trans women is that Ava was just 17 years old and hadn’t even had a chance to follow her dreams yet,” reads a statement by Black Transwomen Inc. “Rest in power and peace, Ava.”