Transgender woman fatally shot in Maryland; suspect arrested

Suspect Rico Hector LeBlond (left) and victim Zella Ziona (right)

Suspect Rico Hector LeBlond (left) and victim Zella Ziona (right) Montgomery County Department of Police/Facebook

MONTGOMERY VILLAGE, Md. (AP) — Montgomery County Police say a transgender woman was shot and killed between two shopping centers in Montgomery Village.

Officers say 21-year-old Zella Ziona was found suffering from a gunshot wound about 5:45 p.m. Thursday in an alley between Montgomery Village Plaza and the Montgomery Village Crossing shopping centers. She was pronounced dead at a hospital.

Gawker reports that a witness saw four or five teenagers surround Ziona, and an argument quickly ensured. Soon after, one of the men reached for his gun and fired.

On Friday, authorities arrested Rico Hector Leblond, 20 of Germantown, charging him in connection with Ziona’s murder.

“[The attack] is not random,” said Montgomery County police captain Paul Starks told The Guardian.

The crime might be investigated as a hate crime. Maryland is one of only 16 states with hate-crime legislation that protects residents on the basis of their actual or perceived gender identity.

Police had earlier identified Ziona as a man named DeAndre Smith. After speaking with relatives, officers learned that Ziona identified as female.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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