2021 is on track to break last year’s record of transgender murders in the United States.

According to reports, 20-year-old Black transgender woman Taya Ashton was killed in Suitland, Prince George’s County, Maryland on 17 July. This marks the 31st known death of a transgender, non-binary or gender non-conforming person in the country this year.

Prince George’s County police found Ashton’s body before 10pm, states the Washington Blade, where they discovered a single gunshot wound. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

Detectives are working to “identify a suspect(s) and determine a motive,” the police said in a statement.

“Based on the preliminary investigation, at this time, detectives do not believe this was a random crime. At this point in the investigation, we have uncovered no evidence suggesting Taya’s murder was due to her gender identity, but as in all cases, we explore all possibilities.”

Ashton’s grandfather, DC resident Stuart Anderson, told the Washington Blade that the victim’s status as a transgender woman was accepted by her parents and extended family, and are devastated over their loss.

He also said there were no signs of forced entry into Ashton’s apartment, leading them to believe that she was murdered by someone she knew. Anderson added: “It looked like a struggle might have taken place.”

DC transgender advocate Earline Budd mourned the death of Ashton, stating: “Today is a somber and sad day for the Transgender Community as we remember yet another life so precious taken away. This murder only reminds us of the tragic shooting in 2019 of both Ashanti Carmon and Zoe Spears.

“Both were brutally gunned down between March 30 and June 19 of 2019, less than a mile from each other. Transgender individuals are experiencing violence locally and around the country almost every day.

“D.C. and P.G. County are only separated by a line, and we must come together as one community to address this violence.”

Budd added: “There should be no rest in the LGBTQ community when something as tragic as this happens. Our prayers go out to the family of Taya.”

A vigil is being held for Ashton at 4pm on Wednesday 21 July at River Terrace Park.

With 31 deaths just seven months into the year, 2021 is on track to surpass 2020 as the deadliest year on record for the transgender community. Last year, 44 known transgender individuals were killed – a majority of which were Black transgender women.

Of course, these are only the murders that have been officially documented, and have taken place in the United States – it’s likely that there are many more undocumented murders of trans individuals elsewhere in the world.

Lindsey Clark, HRC Associate Director of the Transgender Justice Initiative, said: “Taya was just at the beginning of her life — a life that she deserved to live to its fullest. Black transgender women continue to be killed in this country, and this violence is unacceptable.

“Everyone, from friends and family to community organizers and allies, needs to speak out with urgency. We must end the stigma and violence that all transgender and gender non-conforming people face.”