Bubba Walker’s remains went undiscovered for three days among the debris of a burned-out house, which firefighters managed to put out only after hours of effort on July 27. It then took over a month for the badly burned body to be identified as the 55-year-old black transgender woman living in Charlotte, North Carolina, who had been reported to police as missing days before she was discovered by an insurance adjuster.
Even now, there are more questions than answers.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police have re-opened Walker’s missing person case as a homicide, and are attempting to determine if fire was the result of arson. Officer Sirlena June, a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department spokesperson, told The Charlotte Observer the Public Relations Office was unaware of Walker’s transgender status.
The house where her body was discovered was in south Charlotte, nowhere near where she lived or was known to spend time, which was mostly on the east and west sides of town. According to a missing person’s flier, she was last seen at her home in west Charlotte, just hours before the fire, which was nearly 10 miles away from her residence.
a Black trans woman named Bubba was murdered in Charlotte so many Black trans girls killed in NC and everywhere this year.
( this happen in my area where i live i never felt more unsafe)
— clarabelle athena catlin (@clarabellesnake) September 9, 2019
The house was under renovation at the time of the fire, in an effort to convert the home into office space. Thomas Girdwood had recently purchased the property, and said the house was stripped bare. He also reported construction workers were at the location the day before the early morning fire broke out, working into the evening.
The fire department said the fire took 23 firefighters 30 minutes to extinguish, and Charlotte Fire Battalion Chief Phil Bosche said due to the compromised nature of the structure, combined with having no reason to believe anyone was inside at the time the fire broke out, caused them not to inspect the site in a way that would have turned up a body.
Clarabelle Catlin met Walker around last year’s Transgender Day of Remembrance, an annual event taking place on November 20 to honor members of the trans community lost to violence that year. This year in the United States alone there have been at least 19 transgender people killed, most of whom, like Walker, were black trans women. She remembers her friend as being caring, outgoing, and generous.
Catlin tells NewNowNext she heard Walker was missing via a Facebook post from another member of the community. At first, she didn’t worry too much.
“She had the tendency to go off the grid sometimes, but she would always check back in. I just thought it was one of those instances, but it seems like it wasn’t.”
Catlin believes her friend was targeted, telling NewNowNext Walker was always aware of her surroundings, and that had she noticed a building she was in was on fire she would have gotten out as quickly as possible.
“She always told me to be careful. She was a lot older than me and grew up in a different generation, when being trans wasn’t really accepted. So, she was always telling me to stay safe. She was always cautious in everything she did,” she recalls.
Catlin says she didn’t know of anyone who would want to hurt Walker, but adds that Walker had been concerned over the deaths of other trans women throughout the country.
“Everybody loved her, but she was really nervous about gruesome deaths and everything. She told me, ’If something happens to me, [let people know] I love all of my community.'”
That community remembered her at a recent vigil, where, according to Genicia Hairston, memorial coordinator for Mothers of Murdered Offspring, some of her family members were present. They also reportedly donated DNA to help identify their relative.
As for how the community is coping in wake of this tragedy, while awaiting further details and hoping for justice, Catlin says it is difficult to say.
“I just think everyone is really scattered right now…and afraid for their safety, and I don’t blame them, because I’m afraid for my safety all the time.”