A Texas community is mourning the death of 24-year-old Akira Ross, whose father and girlfriend claim was fatally shot by a stranger who was shouting gay slurs at her.
Ross was killed at about 9:50 p.m. on June 2 at a Circle K in Cedar Park, a suburb of Austin, where she had stopped for gas with her girlfriend, Tanya, and another friend. Tanya (who did not provide her last name to protect her privacy) told the Austin American-Statesman that a man yelled gay slurs at Ross as they walked into the store. While Ross was pumping gas, the man, identified by police as Bradley Stanford, 23, continued to harass her, Tanya told the American-Statesman, adding that he suddenly opened fire, killing Ross. No one else was hurt, and Stanford drove off.
“It was a hate crime,” Ross’s father, Anthony Hill, told HuffPost. “He was calling her ‘gay girl,’ ‘dyke girl’ — that’s hate, any way you look at it.”
Akira Ross, 24, was shot and killed on June 2 at a Circle K in Cedar Park, a suburb of Austin, Texas.
Stanford was arrested two days later in Ingleside, more than 200 miles away near Corpus Christi, the Cedar Park Police Department said in a statement. He has been charged with first-degree murder and is being held on $1 million bond.
It is unclear whether authorities consider the killing to be motivated by hate.
“I am only able to confirm right now that this remains an ongoing investigation, and we are actively looking at all avenues of this case,” a spokesperson for the Cedar Park Police Department told HuffPost. Though Texas does not have a hate crime statute, state law does allow sentencing enhancements if certain crimes are committed because of bias or prejudice.
One of Ross’s greatest joys was music, according to her father. “She loved to write music, perform music, hip-hop music. She was a leader... a woman who knew what she wanted out of life,” he said. “Just the look in her eye, that sign, that glow. It would just attract you to her.”
Ross’s mother died just two and half years ago, Hill noted, adding, “Losing her mother, that’s hard enough, because I lost my daughter too. It’s a hard pill to swallow.”
Hill said he was proud that his daughter, who was killed on the second day of Pride month, was open about her sexuality.
“I’m the type of father — I let my kids live their life and whatever they do, I’m going to support it 150%... You can’t be the judge or juror of anybody in this society nowadays... If you don’t like it, just look the other way. It’s none of your business anyway.”
The day before Ross was killed, a gay couple bought a car from Hill, a salesperson at a dealership, which they planned to pick up the next day. When they called to meet, Hill said he told them, “My daughter just got murdered — it was a hate crime. They killed her because she was gay.”
One of the buyers, Christopher Salas, asked Hill for permission to set up a GoFundMe to help with funeral expenses.
“I’m asking for the community and allies to come together in order to support the loss of our LGBTQIA+ sibling,” Salas wrote on the crowdfunding page. “This loss comes so quickly into the beginning of our month where most can feel at liberty to be free and to be their selves.”
The family plans to hold a balloon release ceremony in memory of Ross on Friday at her grandmother’s house in Austin.
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