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Watch: 2021's Trans Murder Toll Rises with Death of Jenna Franks in Jacksonville, NC

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday March 5, 2021
Originally published on March 5, 2021

The year's death toll for trans women rose again with the discovery of the body of Jenna Franks, 34, in Jacksonville, North Carolina, local news station ABC 11 reports.

The reports cited police as saying that Franks' body was discovered Feb. 24 "by city street crews in a wooded area near a bike trail as they were clearing a ditch, and said that police are treating her death as a homicide."

"Information obtained over the few days have investigators treating the case as a homicide," Captain Mike Capps of the Jacksonville Police Department told the media, reports local newspaper The Daily News.

"At this time, there is no additional information that can be released due to the open investigation," Capps added.

The director of the Onslow County LGBTQ+ Community Center, Dennis Biancuzzo, told the media that Franks was a "very loving and very friendly" person and that those who knew her "have been grieving."

"Police have not said whether the crime has any connection to Franks' gender or sexual orientation," the ABC 11 article added, "but many in the area LGBTQ community are concerned.

"Personally, my thought process was that this has to be something nefarious," Biancuzzo said, according to local NBC affiliate WITN. "Jenna had a lot of street smarts. And I don't think that she would place herself in a situation that she would harm herself or that someone would harm her."

Added Biancuzzo: "Jenna was a person that suffered from addiction and chronic homelessness.

"Jenna has had a long road in figuring who she is."

GLAAD took some local media outlets to task, saying they had "repeatedly and knowingly misgendered and deadnamed" Franks.

"These local media outlets failed to revise their initial reporting when contacted by local LGBTQ+ organizations including Equality North Carolina, Campaign for Southern Equality, GLAAD, and The Onslow County LGBTQ+ Community Center," GLAAD said in a March 4 post.

Incidents of lethal anti-trans violence has climbed at an alarmingly rapid pace this year, with Franks being at least the tenth transgender or gender non-conforming person to be killed since the start of 2021.

Jeffrey "JJ" Bright, 16, and his non-binary sibling, Jasmine Cannady, 22, were both slain Feb. 22 in Ambridge, Pennsylvania, according to the Human Rights Campaign, which tracks lethal anti-trans violence.

A few days earlier, Chyna Carillo was beaten to death by a 33-year-old ex-con, even as police officers ordered the man to stop. When he refused and continued to beat Carillo, police shot and killed the man.

Four transwomen of color were murdered in a span of just under three weeks in various locales around the country, from mid-January to early February. Bianca "Muffin" Banks died of gunshot wounds in Atlanta, Ga. on January 17; Dominique Jackson was gunned down in Jackson, Miss., on Jan. 25; Fifty Bandz, 21, was shot and killed in Baton Rouge on Jan. 28; and Alexus Braxton was found dead in Miami on Feb. 4.

Their deaths followed those of Samuel Edmund Damián Valentín, a transman who was discovered with numerous bullet wounds in Puerto Rico on Jan. 11, and Tyianna "Davarea" Alexander, a transgender woman of color who was shot and killed in Chicago on Jan. 6.

Watch the ABC 11 news clip on Franks' death below.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.