INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A 32-year-old man has been charged with the robbery and murder of a 39-year-old transgender woman, Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department said Monday.
IMPD said that officers were called to a report of a person shot just after 10 p.m. Oct. 11 in the 2600 block East Washington Street. That’s in a commercial and residential area on the city’s near-east side. Officers found Sara Blackwood with gunshot wounds. She was taken to a hospital and later died of her injuries.
Homicide detectives on Friday arrested Johnny Viverette Jr. for his alleged involvement in Blackwood’s death, IMPD said in a Monday news release.
He was charged Tuesday with murder, robbery, and possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon.
The IMPD release and the Marion County Coroner’s Office identified the transgender woman as Sarah Blackwood. The prosecutor identified her at Sara Blackwood.
Friends said Blackwood was shot at the intersection of North Temple Avenue and East Washington Street while walking home from work.
According to charging documents released Tuesday, Blackwood had finished working at Long John Silver’s, 3301 E. Washington St. on the night of Oct. 11 and she and her co-worker left the restaurant around 9:45 p.m. Blackwood started walking home, and her co-worker got a ride home from a friend, the co-worker told detectives.
Blackwood’s partner reached out to Blackwood’s co-worker just before 11 p.m. saying that Blackwood had not made it home and asking if they had worked together that night. According to Blackwood’s partner, the walk home usually took about 30 minutes, court documents say.
Blackwood’s partner told detectives she was carrying a purse with a bank card, ID and phone inside that night. Police say the purse was confirmed in surveillance video from a nearby library. But Blackwood did not have the purse or other belongings when she was found shot, court documents say.
On Oct. 29, a detective reviewed video footage from a Domino’s Pizza parking lot. It shows what appears to be a Ford Mustang with missing paint at the intersection of Temple and Washington around 9:55 p.m. It’s the same car later seen in crime scene photos. In the video, a person gets out of the car and walks southbound on Temple. Additional surveillance video shows the same person walking south as Blackwood walked west on Washington. Then the person in the video turns the corner onto Washington, walking east and “immediately presents their arms as if they are pointing a firearm and pull Sara into the front yard” of a home on Washington. After a short time, a flash is seen on the video, consistent with where police found a fired cartridge casing, court documents say.
Detectives worked to find the Mustang and discovered it had been stopped in September in Lawrence, and Viverette was identified as the driver at that time. He was found to have two prior convictions for robbery — one in 2006 and a second in 2010.
Police spotted the Mustang in Westfield at a business where Viverette worked and matched the missing paint to the car in the video, got a search warrant to put GPS tracking on the car and a buccal swab from Viverette and talked to Viverette’s parole officer to get Viverette’s phone number, court documents say.
Detectives learned Viverette had changed his phone carrier within hours of Blackwood’s shooting but keeping the same phone number. Cellphone records obtained by police indicate Viverette’s phone — on the previous carrier — was in the area where Blackwood was shot around the time of the shooting, court documents say.
And in early November, they learned that the Mustang’s missing paint had been covered by new paint, according to court documents.
After his Nov. 20 arrest, Viverette was interviewed by police. He initially said he was not near the crime scene when the shooting happened, then said he was “trying to meet up with a female but his GPS messed up” and he was walking down the street to “ask a male for directions,” court documents say.
Viverette told police the person made a movement toward him, and a struggle ensued. Then he said, “the man shot himself” and that he was scared and ran to his car. He told police he flagged someone down to drive him away from the scene, then got someone else to bring him back to his car later. He told police he ran away with Blackwood’s purse, phone and debit card “because he was scared” and that he left them in an alley. He eventually told police he was the one with the gun, and that he had found the gun days earlier.
When police told Viverette about the video that showed him as “the aggressor in the incident” and asked why he would point a gun at Blackwood if he was only asking for directions, he said he was scared and that his intention was not to rob Blackwood.
Police have said they don’t know if Blackwood’s shooting was motivated by hate, although advocates have said the violence is an example of the dangers transgender people face every day. Her death marked the 33rd transgender death in the U.S. this year, according to transgender advocates.
Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears on Tuesday addressed the issue, saying, “We will carefully examine any evidence that may suggest the possibility that this is bias motivated. Our office is sensitive to the discrimination that often targets members of the LGBTQ+ community, and we will continue to seek justice on behalf of all Hoosiers.”
The prosecutor’s office encouraged anyone experiencing fear, trauma and other concerns as a result of this incident to seek assistance from groups including Gender Nexus and Indiana Youth Group. For immediate assistance, national 24/7 hotlines are available through the Trans Lifeline (1-877-565-8860) and the Trevor Lifeline for individuals 25 and under (1-866-488-7386 or text the word START to 678678).
Balloons and flowers were set up at a memorial for Blackwood at North Temple Avenue and East Washington Street. Friends set up a fundraiser in her memory that raised more than $11,000 and ended in late October. The nonprofit Trinity Haven said some of the money will go toward helping continuing its work providing temporary housing for LGBTQ youths.
Blackwood’s shooting was part of a string of violence during that weekend that left four people dead and seven others injured.