Being a teenager can be rough. But being a teenager in a quiet city in the South when you look and act differently from just about everyone you know can feel completely impossible.
However, despite all of their differences growing up in a small-minded, small town, one teen was ok with standing out. In fact, he completely accepted himself the way he was and so did those closest to him, until one day when fate changed everything…
Katrina Johnson always tried as hard as she could to give her children a normal, happy life. However, being a single black mother to three little ones in Chicago came with many hardships. The mom and her two boys, Kedarie and Cedric, and daughter, Nijah, struggled financially and the family traveled between homeless shelters across Chicago…
In 2001, Katrina moved her babies to Burlington, Iowa, a Mississippi River town of 25,000 people in hopes of giving them a new – and better – life. Unfortunately, their troubles followed the family when Katrina lost her job and Cedric was sent to live with a local pastor, while Nijah stayed with relatives in Chicago. Kedarie, meanwhile, tried his best to help his mom pay the bills and find an apartment to get them back on their feet…
“Here’s a 16-year-old kid going to work at Taco Bell every night, getting off of work late at night, knowing he has to go to school in the morning, and he’s taking his paycheck and putting it with mom’s money so they could rent this motel by the week,” Shaunda Campbell, a close family friend said of Kedarie. “To me, for as young as he was, he had adult problems that I felt like he should not have had to deal with.”
On top of his difficult home life, it wasn’t easy for Kedarie to be a black teen in a mostly white community, in a mostly white state. His new home town was much different from the West Side of Chicago, a city that had 100 times the population of Burlington. And there was something else that made Kedarie very different from many of the other boys his age in town…
Growing up, Kedarie had always been seen as somewhat feminine. Instead of “throwing rocks and playing ball” with his younger brother and cousins, Kedarie would always choose to play with dolls and purses and comb girls’ hair. As he got older, Kedarie continued to favor and engage in activities more common with girls.
While other teen boys would try to hang out with girls or play sports after school, Kedarie preferred to take selfies and do his hair and makeup. He’d also often wore long weaves in his hair and would paint his fingernails. And sometimes, Kedarie opted to wear women’s clothing, too…
Kedarie loved wearing colorful maxi skirts and wanted to be famous someday. It was difficult for someone like Kedarie, who also enjoyed teaching dance at a local community center, not to stand out. The teen was known for his electric personality that made him completely dominate any room he entered.
Although Kedarie would sometimes identify as a transgender teen, he’d explain his “status” isn’t so simple. The teen had a second separate Facebook page under the name “Kandicee” and would sometimes go by that persona. However, even though he loved to wear hair extensions and leggings, most of the time he presented as a male and preferred to go by “he”…
At just 16, Kedarie was just a young person trying to figure himself out. Yet even despite all of his differences and his colorful personality, Kedarie was widely accepted by most people in his life. At his high school, Kedarie was a very popular student who was known for his infectious laugh and dazzling grin. “He befriended anyone who talked to him who wanted to be his friend because he was that cool a person,” Andre Giles, 19, said.
Kedarie was known as a good kid who never really got into trouble, but he was known to cause a stir at school. Always looking to show off, he would sometimes skip class to do his makeup in the bathroom when he wasn’t supposed to, and take off his shoes and dance down the hallway. The school eventually wanted to put an end to Kedarie’s behavior and he was given a two-day suspension after mouthing off to a teacher…
On the first day of his suspension, Wednesday, March 2, 2016, Kedarie got into an argument with someone using a fake profile under the name “Nathaniel Jones” on his Kandicee Facebook profile. Later that night, Kedarie went to a friend’s house to try on some bras. The 16-year-old wasn’t his usual jovial self and told the friend he noticed a mysterious red car following him that day but wasn’t sure who was behind the wheel or where the car went.
Be Home Soon
Kedarie also told the friend he was scared of a guy named “Lumni” before borrowing a couple of bras and bracing the cold weather to walk home. Around 10 p.m., he called his mom to say he’d see her soon after stopping by the local Hy Vee supermarket. After the call ended, Hy Vee security cameras picked up the teen walking alone wearing a black hoodie with long, braided hair, before a red Chevy Impala pulled up beside him…
Police believe Kedarie then entered the car with two men, but what happened within the next 90 minutes was a mystery. Kedarie’s apartment was only a couple of blocks from the Hy Vee, but he ended up in an alley a few blocks away in the opposite direction. A little before midnight, police responded to a gunshot call and discovered the teen wearing women’s clothes, and strands of his hair weave had been pulled from his scalp.
Dead On Arrival
A garbage bag was clinched around the young teen’s head and his body was drenched in Dollar General-brand bleach, with the empty bottle laying next to him. Kedarie had been shot twice in the chest, brutally murdered, and no one close to him could think of any motive, as everyone loved Kedarie. The unique, happy teen, who was completely comfortable in his own skin had seemingly become the victim of a horrific hate crime…
Burlington police soon put out a search warrant for the red Impala and found it registered to a pregnant woman named Malaka Samuel, who sometimes lived at a house on Madison Avenue, just two miles from the alley where Kedarie’s body was found. She was the girlfriend of 23-year-old Jorge Sanders-Galvez, aka “Lumni”.
A few days later, cops in Missouri discovered Lumni’s cousin Jaron Purham, 26, behind the wheel of the red Impala and apprehended him following a high-speed chase that resulted in him crashing into a police cruiser. On the dashboard, in plain sight, was the revolver used to kill Kedarie. About one month later, Sanders-Galvez was also arrested…
According to prosecutors, the two are believed to have picked up a petite black girl before bringing her back to the Madison Avenue house where they lived with Malaka Samuel and often brought home random women for sex. Although police can’t confirm what happened next, they’ve received hundreds of tips on Facebook and from friends of Kedarie, who heard that he was raped by the two cousins, urinated and defecated on, before being doused in bleach to cover any evidence.
No Random Act
Prosecutors believe Sanders-Galvez and Purham thought Kedarie was a female and became enraged when they discovered she was a he during a sex act. Both men deny killing Kedarie, but those closest to him knew it was no random act of violence. Kedarie’s mother believes her son’s tragic death to be the direct result of his gender-fluidity and want his killers to be tried for a hate crime…
Sanders-Galvez’ two-week trial for first-degree murder stirred much debate over the definition of a hate crime and gained the attention of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a well-known conservative who famously rolled back laws to protect transgender bathroom rights and surprised many LGBTQ advocates. Yet Sessions fought for justice for Kedarie, believing his death warranted attention. Since Iowa’s hate crimes statute doesn’t cover gender identity, Sessions sent an experienced hate crimes prosecutor to assist in the trial and investigate Kedarie’s painful, horrific killing.
Justice For Kedarie
For now, Sanders-Galvez has not been charged with a hate crime, a punishment which can warrant the death penalty in Iowa, but he does face a lifetime behind bars, where he can never commit another senseless murder again. His cousin will likely receive the same sentence, however, the attention Kedarie’s case gained has pushed Iowa in the direction of making necessary changes for what constitutes a hate crime… and that’s enough for Kedarie’s mother, for now. “I’ve said that it was a hate crime since the day this all happened,” Katrina Johnson said, “and I do feel like it’s important that that be said.”