3 Charged in Beating Death of Boy, 17, Who Lived as a Girl
Three Bay Area men were charged Friday with murdering a 17-year-old boy who dressed and lived as a girl after one of the accused led authorities to the victim’s body, buried in a remote area of the Sierra foothills.
The Alameda County coroner’s office identified the dead teenager as Newark resident Eddie Araujo and said an examination showed he had been severely beaten. Araujo’s body, dressed in women’s clothing, was unearthed Wednesday near an El Dorado National Forest campground 30 miles east of Placerville.
Araujo, a former student at Crossroads High School in Newark, was last seen at a party on Oct. 3, police said, where he was attacked after the suspects discovered he was male.
Police reports detail interviews with several people who said they had heard the defendants had sex with Araujo and then discovered he was not a girl.
Araujo’s mother reported him missing on Oct. 3, telling police she was worried he might have been harmed because he was dressed in women’s clothes, police reports said. She told police that Araujo left for the party dressed in a jeans miniskirt and black shirt.
Newark police said Araujo, who used the first names “Gwen” and “Lida,” had been dressing as a woman for some time.
In an interview Friday night, Araujo’s mother, Sylvia Guerrero said, “If I can bury him, I’ll bury him in a dress with makeup and his nails done, and the tombstone will say, ‘Gwen.’ He deserves it.”
Prosecutors filed murder charges Friday against Michael Magidson, 22, of Fremont and Jaron Chase Nabors, 19, and Jose Merel, 24, both of Newark. Police said Nabors led them to the grave near the Silver Fork campground in El Dorado County. The suspects entered no pleas and were held without bail. Merel’s brother, Paul Merel Jr., 25, was released.
A police affidavit said Paul Merel’s girlfriend, Nicole Brown, discovered Araujo was male when she took him to a bathroom to determine his gender. After she told the others, the defendants allegedly beat him into semiconsciousness and dragged him into a garage, where they tightened a rope around his neck until he appeared dead, the affidavit said.
The defendants drove Araujo to the campsite in the rugged back country of the High Sierra, where they buried him, according to the affidavit.
Araujo’s aunt, Imelda Guerrero, 30, called police on Oct. 9 after hearing a rumor of the slaying of a male dressed as a woman at a local party, police reports said. Police then began interviewing people who had heard about the confrontation at the party, which was held at the Merels’ house.
One person who attended the party took police to the house.
Nabors’ attorney, Robert J. Beles, said his client was “in the wrong place at the wrong time,” but did not “participate in any homicide activity at all.”
“There are no indications of any bias or attitudes of any homophobic nature at all in Jaron,” he said. “When all the evidence is in, it will show he is not guilty of this. He told me he did not participate in any aggressive activity toward the victim, or in beating the victim.”
Beles denied police allegations that Nabors had confessed Wednesday to the crime. He would not comment, however, on whether Nabors led authorities to the body.
Nichole Giacoletto, 19, an acquaintance of Nabors in junior high school, said: “I just can’t believe what’s happened. It’s very sad. Very sick.”
“Jaron was popular -- all the girls liked him,” she said. “He hung around with the cool kids. I never saw him in a fight. So I’m shocked.”
Bay Area community groups Friday compared the killing to the 1998 slaying of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard. A local high school production of a play based on Shepard’s killing, “The Laramie Project,” is set for production next month.
“This case shows that there is still so much work to do about people’s fear and hatred,” said Tina D’Elia, hate-crimes specialist with the San Francisco-based Community United Against Violence. “It shows that for anyone who chooses to go outside the mainstream binary culture, the fear of death is so real.”
Araujo had apparently dropped out of school over the summer. He had been in Newark’s public school system since kindergarten and had shifted to alternative study programs when he was in middle school, first attending the Bridgepoint School and switching to Crossroads for his first three years of high school, said Newark Unified School District Supt. Ken Sherer.
Araujo’s classes required students to meet with a teacher once a week. But he attended only about half his weekly meetings over the years, Sherer said, and hadn’t shown up since the school year began in late August. Truancy officers do not usually try to find students who are 17 or 18 because they are old enough to quit school. His last teacher retired this summer and has moved out of state.
Friends of Araujo at Newark Memorial High School collected $207 Friday to assist with burial expenses. “We are going to keep collecting and get more people involved,” said Jessica Bernal, 16. “We are going to make one big check and give it to his mother. As friends of Eddie, we just want to help.”
“We spend a lot of time teaching students they should respect another person’s lifestyle,” Sherer said. “It’s ironic that this happened to occur at the same time we’re putting on this [“Laramie Project”] play. It does kind of speak to the point that no matter how hard we try within society to eliminate prejudices, we still have a lot of it.”
Newark Memorial drama teacher Barbara Williams said the school still plans to stage “The Laramie Project” next month.
Williams, who has taught in the district for 38 years and is directing the school’s production, said she picked the production because she thought the community needed a lesson in tolerance.
“I’ve watched over the years so many of our students, especially those who are gay, being ridiculed and abused, and being afraid,” Williams said.
Williams said the small East Bay community, consisting of working-class and immigrant neighborhoods between San Jose and Oakland, embraced the idea for the show, which is sold out for its Nov. 8 opening night.
Now, because of the Araujo killing, Williams said, “we’re living the horrible reality of our play.”
The play, she said, will be dedicated to Araujo and all other victims of hate crimes.
Araujo’s friend Daisy Bernal said Araujo would get upset if she called him Eddie.
“She would be like, ‘Shut up. Don’t call me that,’ ” Bernal said. “After I called her that, she just said, ‘I’m a girl, I’m just a girl trapped in a guy’s body. God made me like that.’ ”
Times staff writer Rone Tempest and Associated Press contributed to this report.