Dwanya Hickerson first met Dee Whigham virtually. The two had chatted online for two months before deciding to meet up in person while Whigham was in Biloxi, Mississippi with friends.
Unfortunately, July 23, 2016 was the last time Whigham’s friends ever saw her alive. When they arrived at the Best Western Hotel, they discovered a bloody scene: Whigham’s butchered body lay abandoned, her purse picked through, and Hickerson was nowhere to be found.
Whigham had been stabbed 119 times, with the autopsy later revealing that her face suffered the brunt of the knife wounds.
Hickerson allegedly committed the brutal hate crime all because Whigham had disclosed that she was a transgender woman.
Two days after the fact, Hickerson was arrested on Keesler Air Force Base. He was a sailor and was stationed at Keesler for training.
When the surveillance tape from the night was publicly released, it revealed Hickerson leaving the hotel room 23 minutes after he and Whigham arrived from their date. An instructor on base at Keesler recognized Hickerson in the footage and reported him to the authorities.
Hickerson pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and robbery. While in court, the 21-year-old explained the reasoning behind his action. He told the court:
“She told me she was born a man […] And I just lost it. I lost my mind.”
WLOX reported that while Whigham identified as a woman, she had not yet undergone any kind of gender reassignment surgery.Screenshot/WLOX
Whigham’s family and the transgender community are devastated by this loss. Surprisingly, despite their sadness, the family expressed minimal anger toward the killer.
Denisha Whigham, the victim’s sister, said:
“I didn’t approve of his lifestyle. So, I can understand what you say happened, happened. I can understand your anger. But, I miss my brother.”
Violence against those in the transgender community is fairly common. 2016 was “the deadliest year on record for the LGBTQ community,” with a 17 percent increase in homicides from 2015.
The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) is constantly working to end “all forms of violence against and within lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and HIV-affected communities.” Emily Waters, a speaker at the New York City Anti-Violence Project said:
“In order to end violence, we must shift culture to be loving and affirming of LGBTQ communities. The visibility of anti-LGBTQ violence is important, but equally necessary are stories of LGBTQ people thriving and living their truths. Presenting these positive ways of existing in the world opens the door for everyone to live their uniquely full selves.”
After his confession, Hickerson was sentenced to 40 years in prison, “with no possibility of parole for the murder charge,” with an additional 15 years tacked on for the robbery charge.
District Attorney Tony Lawrence said:
“I think when we resort to violence, there’s never a good ending. And that’s what happened in this case. Two families walked away from this courtroom today, without their family members.”
A candlelight vigil was held for Whigham following her murder, where Reverend Errol Montgomery-Robertson said:
“Our hearts ache, our tears flow, our anger rages. We feel a deep wound. We mourn the loss of what could have been, what would have been and what should be — but cannot.”