We first found this story on advocate.com where they called this story “A Rose by Another Name” We have used the same name here as we believe it is also a fitting title. This is an important story for us to learn about as a society and to learn and grow from terrible acts such as this. Some information in this article was also obtained from Wikipedia.
Gwen was born on February 24th 1985 in Brawley California to Edward Araujo Sr. and Slyvia Guerrero. Her parents sadly got divorced when she was still a baby. Gwen was originally known by a different name. Her now “dead name” was Edward Araujo, and in 1999 when Edward was 14 years old she came out that she was transgender and wanted to change to be the same as her favourite singer ‘ Gwen Stefani’. However, she was also known by other names such as Wendy and Lida.
She grew out her hair and had plans to undergo hormone treatment and gender reassignment surgery. Unfortunately, she was bullied terribly at school because of her voice and appearance and when she was transferred to a different high school she was bullied there too and ended up leaving education entirely before the end of her academic year.
When she was 17 years old, she met Michael Magidson, 22, Joel Merél 22, Jason Nabors, 19 and Jason Cazares, 22 in late August, early September 2002.
They all got on, enjoyed smoking weed and according to witness accounts she was even quite flirty with them all – not that this would excuse anything.
Apparently late that night she decided to go home early and Nabors asked his mates: “Could this be a dude?” The others brushed that thought aside and carried on with their evening.
Later on into their friendship, Gwen engaged in oral sex with Magidson and had anal sex with Merél. According to them, to hide the fact that she had a penis she would push them away from her genital area and would blame it on the fact she was on her period.
On a separate occasion, Nicole Brown who was dating José Merél’s older brother, Paul Merél at the time, challenged Gwen to strip for all the men. Some friends they were. Understandably, Gwen refused to strip and responded by punching Brown in the face which started a physical fight between the two. Brown was quoted later saying that “the men were tripping because she was smaller than me and was just as strong, she fought like a guy”.
Later in September, the guys were debating again whether Gwen was female saying “something bad could happen” to her if she wasn’t.
On the night of 3rd October 2002, Gwen attended a party at a house rented by José and Paul Merél. All the other friends were there including Nicole Brown and the Merél brothers’ younger brother Emmanuel. Later Nabor testified that José Merél said that “I swear, if it’s a fucking man, I’m gonna kill him. If it’s a man, she ain’t gonna leave”.
Magidson replied by saying, “I don’t know what I’m going to do”. Nabor then replied saying “whatever you do, make sure you don’t make a mess”.
Nicole Brown said the four men then went out clubbing and didn’t return till after midnight.
In the early hours of October 4, Magidson asked Gwen to reveal her sex or to allow him to touch her genitals, which she refused (rightly so). Nicole then suggested that one of them should ‘inspect’ Gwen – so Magidson took Gwen to the bathroom.
After half an hour, Nicole also went to the bathroom where she discovered Gwen had male genitalia during her forced inspection. Nicole then proceeded to shout out to the men outside “it’s a fucking man!”. The men who had had sexual experiences with Gwen were now enraged.
Brown warned Gwen that the men would be extremely angry when Gwen left the bathroom. Gwen had no choice but to eventually leave and headed for the front door but was confronted by Magidson, Nabors and Cazares and forced back inside the house. Emmanuel, the youngest of the Merél brothers, actually tried to help Gwen out of the house but was also prevented by the other three.
José Merél then proceeded to vomit after learning of Gwen’s physical biology and then started to cry in disbelief saying “I can’t be fucking gay”.
Gwen was brought back into the house, where Magidson grabbed at her skirt and underwear in an attempt to expose her in front of everyone. He started punching her in the face until she was on the ground and then put her in a chokehold but he was pulled off by the others.
Gwen begged for her life for them to stop saying “no please don’t, I have a family”. José then became angry and struck her in the face with a can of food, the force from which dented and cut open Gwen’s head. He then got a frying pan and whacked her again over her head. The last words Joel Merél heard from Gwen were “I told you I was sorry”.
Some point after this Nicole woke up her boyfriend Paul and they left the house with Emmanuel. He later said that he went to a convenience store to buy gum and then went to a friends house to spend the night.
A Senseless Murder
Nabors and Cazares left in Magidson’s truck to get shovels and a pickaxe from Cazares’ house. As they did this they said that the others should “kill that bitch”.
When Nabors and Cazares returned to the Merél’s house. Gwen was still conscious, bleeding from her head wound and was sitting on the couch. José Merél saw that she was bleeding onto his couch and he forced her off of it. Then the assault began again.
Magidson hit her head against the living room wall with his knee so hard it left a dent in the wall, knocking her out again. Cazares then kicked her. Merél became more concerned about the blood on the couch and on the floor so he ran into his room away from the others so they couldn’t see him crying.
Magidson then proceeded to bind Gwen’s wrists and ankles together, and then she was wrapped into a comforter to try and minimise the blood from staining the carpet before carrying her into the garage.
Nabors testifies that Magidson then strangled Gwen with a rope and Jason Cazares struck her with a shovel. Nabors says that he was returning from the garage so didn’t actually see the act of strangulation. He says he just saw Magidson raise the rope to her neck but he left before he saw what he did.
Magidson used Gwen’s other name ‘Lida’ to tell the others later that he “wrapped the rope around Lida’s neck and twisted it”. According to Nabors, Magidson wasn’t sure if Gwen had died from twisting the rope, but once Jason hit her twice over the head with the shovel he knew she was dead.
Who Killed Gwen?
This is when they all testify different things that happened in that garage.
Magidson testified that it was Nabors that strangled and struck Gwen.
Cazares said he never struck her and didn’t see her die.
José Merél was too busy cleaning up the blood in the other room and thought Gwen was still alive until he saw her body in the back of Magidson’s truck.
It’s not clear exactly what sequence killed Gwen, but the autopsy said that she died from strangulation with also a blunt force trauma to the head. All the boys knew was that once she was struck with a shovel that’s when they knew she was dead.
They then drove 4 hours away, burying her body near the Sierra Nevada mountains in a shallow grave in the El Dorado National Forest. They then got a McDonald’s Drive-Thru breakfast on the way home (like nothing had happened). In a phone conversation with Nicole, when she asked what happened when she and Paul left, José Merél replied saying “Let’s just say she had a long walk home”.
None of the partygoers reported any of the abuse that happened that night.
But, on the 5th October, when Gwen’s Mother realised she hadn’t come home she put in a missing person report. At first, the Police didn’t take the missing person case seriously – partly because she was transgender (which makes my blood boil) but also because it was normal for her to stay overnight at other places.
Rumours then got to her family saying that a transgender woman was outed at a party, killed and buried in Tahoe. Her Aunt then rang the Police with what she had heard on the 9th of October. That’s when Police finally started to interview partygoers and that led them to the Merél house.
Two days after Gwen was reported missing, a friend of Jaron Nabors described him as appearing distraught. Turns out Nabors confessed to a friend what the four did to Gwen shortly after getting back from the gravesite.
That friend tipped off the Police and agreed to wear a wire to get him to confess to the murder. Which he did. Confronted with the recording, Nabors finally led police to Gwen’s body on 15th October.
So Magidson, Nabors, José Merél, and Paul Merél were all arrested.
Paul Merél was released after Nicole and Emmanuel said that he left with them before the murder. (I’m sorry but surely they should be arrested too? Maybe not Emmanuel because he actually tried to help Gwen, but still?!)
But Magidson, Nabors, José Merél, were charged with Gwen Araujo’s murder on 17th October and were refused bail.
On 24th October, Nabors pleaded ‘not guilty’; Magidson was still looking for an attorney, and José Merél was still reviewing the evidence against him. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Merél said that he was confident that the charges would be dropped.
After he was arrested, Nabors wrote a letter to a girlfriend in which he stated that the defendants’ had discussed a “Soprano-type plan” to “kill the bitch and get rid of her body”. The letter was intercepted by Sheriff’s officials and led to the arrest of Cazares on 19th November.
Nabors received an 11-year sentence on 25th August 2006. With credit for time served. He was expected to spend approximately five years in jail from that point forward.
Michael Magidson and José Merél were sentenced in January to 15 years to life in prison, for second-degree murder. While Merél expressed deep sorrow and regret to Araujo’s family, Magidson was angry about his verdict and expressed “no remorse”.
Cazares pleaded no contest to manslaughter on 16th December 2005 and was sentenced to six years in prison, with credit for time already served.
Memorial for Gwen Araujo
Gwen Araujo was mourned in a public funeral at St. Edwards Catholic Church in Newark on October 25, 2002. Fred Phelps and the members of Phelps’s Westboro Baptist Church (who also made an appearance in our last article) promised to picket the funeral but thankfully did not. She was cremated, and her mother Sylvia retained the urn with her ashes.
TransVivor, a comprehensive health and social services program for transgender people in Alameda County, was founded in 2002 and operated by Tri-City Health Center after the murder of Gwen Araujo.
At the request of her mother, a judge changed the legal name to Gwen Amber Rose Araujo on 23rd June 2004. Amber Rose was the name her mother had chosen out for a girl.
On the first anniversary of the murder, Horizons Foundation created the Gwen Araujo Memorial Fund for Transgender Education. The Fund’s purpose is to support school-based programs in the nine-county Bay Area that promote understanding of transgender people and issues through annual grants. Through this fund, Sylvia and her family speak in middle and high schools about transgender awareness and understanding.
Sadly Sylvia Guerrero used to make good money as a legal assistant at a San Jose law firm but is now homeless due to having PTSD from the incident. She has been unable to return to work and now shuffles her belongings from relatives’ houses using a borrowed car from her friend.
That is the story of Gwen Amber Rose Araujo.