Questions are swirling around the grisly murder of a transgender teenager in Missouri who was found stabbed last week in the genitals with her eyes gouged out. Authorities in rural Houston say the killing of Ally Lee Steinfeld, who was born Joseph Matthew Steinfeld Jr., wasn't a hate crime, the AP reports. But gender rights advocates think otherwise. Steinfeld's remains were found near the mobile home where she was living with one of the alleged killers, Briana Calderas, 24. Authorities say Calderas and two 18-year-olds, Andrew Vrba and Isis Schauer, burned Steinfeld's body, placed some of the bones into a garbage bag, and put the bag in the chicken coop. Calderas admitted helping burn the body and led authorities to the knife used in the killing, police say. The female suspects said Vrba bragged to them about stabbing and mutilating Steinfeld.
All three were charged with first-degree murder. A fourth suspect was charged with abandonment of a corpse. Steinfeld's mother, who still uses her child's birth name, said the three teens charged with murder were all living together. She said her son "Joey" was engaged to a woman until August, and then he began dating Calderas. Authorities aren't saying what led to the slaying, but they deny it was over Steinfeld's gender identity. But Chris Sgro of the Human Rights Campaign disagreed. "This violence, often motivated by hatred, must come to an end," he tells the AP, noting that Steinfeld was the 21st transgender person killed in the US this year. (Read more Ally Lee Steinfeld stories.)