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Search underway for suspect in California trans woman's death

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(BRAWLEY, Calif.) — Investigators are still working to determine a motive in the death of 22-year-old Marilyn Cazares, who was found in an abandoned home in Brawley, California, on Monday. Her family said they believe it’s a hate crime.

Firefighters discovered her body while responding to reports of a fire in a deserted single-family home around 8:30 a.m. The official cause of death is currently under investigation.

“She was a very proud member of the LGBT community,” Cazares’ aunt, Lorissa Espinoza, said in and interview with ABC News. “She was strong and she would look anybody in the eye and say, ‘I’m very proud of who I am.'”

Espinoza said her niece, who began transitioning about five years ago, suffered from bullying as a young boy and teenager. It got worse when she came out as transgender, Espinoza added.

“She often would come home in tears because when she decided to transition people would say and do awful things,” Espinoza said. “She was ridiculed because of her identity. And sadly, I believe it’s because people are not as tolerant as we would hope they would be. They lack awareness, so they don’t have the compassion and the competence in that sense.”

She described Cazares as loving and funny person who called other members of the LGBTQ community “her brothers and sisters.”

“Being beautiful was so important to her. She enjoyed getting dressed up — the wigs, the nails, the makeup, the full nine,” Espinoza said. “She loved everything about being feminine and she was a very kind and outspoken person.”

Police are currently investigating her death as a homicide, but the family said they believe it should be classified as a hate crime, in part, due to the crime’s “sheer gruesomeness.”

Her family said she was fatally stabbed and burned, but police have not released any information about the cause of death. They said she struggled with drug addiction and enjoyed living on the streets with “her people” despite having a family home to go to.

Brawley Police Department Commander Brett Houser said there’s been a steady flow of mourners gathering daily near the scene of the crime throughout the week.

“It hurts my heart,” Houser told ABC News Friday. “A lot of people have been coming by to spend a few moments there. You see them either crying, praying or talking quietly and then they kind of move on until next group comes through.”

“Seeing that kind of reminds you of why you get into the job. You want to save people from that grief, and possibly stop those things from happening or find justice for when they do happen,” he added.

He declined to offer details on the ongoing investigation as the department is “still working leads and following up on information.”

Family members said funeral arrangements were still in the works, but that they are planning a “call for justice” march where they plan to honor Cazares’ life and speak out against transphobia and discrimination.

“In Imperial Valley, where we live, being transgender is not necessarily accepted,” Espinoza said. “That’s why we want to continue to put our voice out there for. We’re trying to create a movement so that we can bring awareness and ultimately get justice.”

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