A Texas community is mourning the death of 24-year-old Akira Ross, whose father and girlfriend were allegedly shot dead by a stranger who yelled gay swear words at them.
Ross was killed around 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 friend Tanya and another friend. Tanya (who didn’t give her last name to protect her privacy) said the Austin American-Statesman that a man shouted gay insults at Ross as they entered the store. While Ross was pumping gas, the man, identified by police as Bradley Stanford, 23, continued to molest 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’ father, Anthony Hill, told HuffPost. “He called her ‘gay girl’, ‘lesbian girl’ — that’s hate any way you look at it.”
Stanford was arrested by the Cedar Park Police Department two days later in Ingleside, more than 200 miles away near Corpus Christi said in a statement. He was charged with first-degree murder and is being held on $1 million bail.
It is unclear whether the authorities believe the killing was motivated by hatred.
“Right now I can only confirm that this is an ongoing investigation and we are actively evaluating all possibilities in this case,” a spokesman for the Cedar Park Police Department told HuffPost. Although Texas does not have a hate crime law, state law allows for increased sentences if certain crimes are committed because of bias or prejudice.
One of Ross’ greatest joys, according to her father, was music. “She loved writing music, performing music, making hip hop music. She was a leader…a woman who knew what she wanted out of life,” he said. “Just the look in her eyes, that mark, that glow. It would just draw you to her.”
Ross’ mother passed away just two and a half years ago, Hill noted, adding, “Losing your mother is hard enough because I also lost my daughter. It’s a difficult pill to swallow.”
Hill said he is proud that his daughter, who was killed on the second day of Pride month, has been open about her sexuality.
“I’m the dad type – I let my kids live their lives and whatever they do I will support it 150%… In this society you can’t be anybody’s judge or jury anymore.” If you don’t like it, just look away. It’s none of your business anyway.”
The day before Ross was killed, a gay couple bought a car from Hill, a salesman at a dealership, which they intended to pick up the next day. When they called to meet, Hill said he told them, “My daughter was just murdered — it was a hate crime. They killed her because she was gay.”
one of the buyers, Christopher Salas, asked Hill for permission to start one GoFundMe to help with funeral expenses.
“I ask the community and its allies to come together to support the loss of our LGBTQIA+ sibling.” Salas wrote on the crowdfunding page. “This loss comes so quickly at the beginning of our month when most can feel free to be free and be themselves.”
The family plans to hold a balloon release ceremony in memory of Ross at her grandmother’s home in Austin on Friday.
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