She was a beautiful girl. Pale, milky skin, sun-kissed hair that fell across her narrow shoulders in perfect form and a bright unassuming smile that most would envy. One of her classmates described her as “One of the most kindhearted and nicest people I knew.”
On July 19th, 2016 while riding her bike home after a visit with her boyfriend along a remote country road in the small Ohio farm town of Delta, Sierah Joughin vanished.
Immediately, the entire town sprang into action to find the missing girl, described as a promising college student loved by many. She was reported missing at 11 p.m on Tuesday the 19th and an organized search was dispatched by 3 a.m. Wednesday morning. Within 24 hours,the local- then national- media centralized their focus on Joughin’s startling disappearance that quickly gripped the entire nation. A 100,000 reward was posted for any information leading to her safe return. The police held live televised press conferences alongside the family to appeal to the public for assistance.
The FBI issued a statewide call for help. Along with hundreds of volunteers they combed the rural area she had last been seen in before discovering her bicycle, abandoned in a nearby cornfield.
By that Friday, Fulton County Police arrested James Worley in connection with Joughin’s abduction. Worley, who lived in the area, had been convicted sixteen years prior for kidnapping another woman on a bicycle.
Shortly afterward, the mystery would come to a tragic end with the discovery of Joughin’s remains. Along with the family, friends and university, the nation altogether mourned.
James Worley was discovered to have been her abductor and her murderer. He was found guilty at his trial on March 28, 2018 of seventeen charges, including aggravated murder.
Since the horrific events that unfolded that July summer over 3 years ago the legacy of Joughin has been carried on by her loved ones and community. As a result of Joughin’s untimely death, a law was created and named for her. Sierah’s Law passed unanimously in 2018 and would establish a registry of violent offenders in the state of Ohio. Her family established a Scholarship fund from the $45,000 in donations received via a GoFundMe campaign in pursuit of their search efforts.
A non-profit organization called “Justice For Sierah” was formed which holds an annual “Spirit of Sierah” marathon race in her birthplace of Sylvania, Ohio.
This year, the Oxygen network devoted an episode of their series “Buried in the Backyard” to the murder of Joughin.
It wasn’t an entire year since Sierah’s disappearance when, on February 8th of 2017, just 30 miles east of Delta in the city of Toledo, Jojo Striker, a young, black transgender girl who had just turned 23 was discovered murdered in a vacant garage by a single gunshot wound to the torso.
Police and the media initially reported her death by misgendering her and dead-naming her in their reporting. For the sake of full disclosure, I lived locally at the time and upon seeing the evening news where her death had been reported, I noted that the photo they used was a direct contradiction to the pronouns and names they used. It was clear that Jojo presented female. I addressed this with the local media, and I watched as that effort to correct their reporting fetched more media attention- but that attention suddenly shifted the focus onto her mistreatment and away from her murder.
One story began;
“For police, it seemed like any other homicide.
The body of a 23-year old victim was found in a vacant garage last Wednesday; the person was first listed as an unidentified black male by police and eventually identified as *********. (I have redacted her birth name.)
But the case soon took a twist when it was reported that Striker identified as Jojo Striker — a transgender woman.”
The reports of Jojo’s murder took an even darker turn when her Mother, Shanda Striker, confessed in an interview with local television station WTOL that Police had encouraged her not to make any further inquiry into Jojo’s murder.
“The police told us to leave it alone but that will never happen because I will always search for my son’s killer.” -Shanda Striker
Ms. Striker admitted that she didn’t know proper pronoun usage and that her child was her baby, boy or girl. She hadn’t yet fully adjusted her language and in the turmoil surrounding the loss easily misspoke.
From that point onward, Jojo Striker’s murder was only reported by the LGBT themed press around the country, and her name became part of a heartbreaking tableau of black trans women assigned numbers as the media counted their deaths. Striker was was the third black trans woman murdered in 2017. Most of them unsolved.
A GoFundMe was set up by local LGBT advocacy organization Equality Toledo, which raised just over $4,000 to cover Striker’s funeral expenses.
In what few statements that have been made by Toledo police with respect to the murder and whether or not it was a hate crime, their trajectory has been less on promoting an investigation and more on remarking on a “criminal history.”
In a brief interview with NBC 24 news, they reported;
“I’m not sure how (Striker) identified, but that will certainly be something we’re looking into to see if that had something to do with the motive or not,” said Lt. Joe Heffernan.
He adds that TPD is also looking for clues within Striker’s criminal past, which included soliciting charges and an active warrant for robbery.
Less than a week after the discovery of her body, Toledo Police declared they had no leads, no suspects and no motive. Instead, they told local reporters that anyone with information could call a crime-stoppers number. Striker’s family has been offered no consolation from officials or closure.
Today, there has been no further investigation or public comments from authorities on Striker’s death although the greater LGBT community has paid tribute to her memory during Transgender Day of Remembrance.
These two tragedies cannot be compared in their horrendous nature nor can the grief experienced by their respective loved ones. For a long time I debated on whether or not to write this story. I didn’t want readers to think I was minimizing one loss and elevating another in its place. I was afraid someone might presume it was cruel comparison of events where there is none to be had. I was concerned it would be viewed as a remark on the families, the unspeakable circumstances they’ve endured, lacking in respect to them or a petty ‘whatabout-ism.’
However, I must confess that they can be measured against one another, but only in the response from the greater public and authorities involved. In the case of Sierah Joughin, authorities involved were swift to act, thorough in their investigation and they were effective in seeking justice. In contrast, the authorities responsible for investigating JoJo Striker’s murder instructed her Mother to “Leave it alone” and there has been no visible effort to find her killer.
“Leave it alone.”
That has sat with me for three years, now. Those words seemed to slip by most in the media and perhaps that is why there has been a lack of any information or perceived effort on behalf of Striker’s local police. It has been accepted without question… because it was expected. It is hard not to draw a parallel between two young women with a future that had been stolen and the disparity in the investment of authorities to deliver them justice, equally.