Police make arrest in 1st of 3 transgender women murdered in 2018

Jacksonville police say ​​​​​​​Sean Phoenix admitted shooting Celine Walker

By Corley Peel - Reporter, Steve Patrick - News4Jax digital managing editor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A 21-year-old man is charged with murder in the shooting death of a transgender woman at a Jacksonville hotel in February 2018. 

The case marked the first of three transgender women killed last year and this is the first of those investigations to result in an arrest.

Sean Bernard Phoenix was arrested on suspicion of the killing of 36-year-old Erika Walker, who went by the name Celine, at the Extended Stay America hotel on Skinner Lake Drive.

The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office said detectives collected several shell casings and DNA evidence in the hotel room, and a DNA match led them to Phoenix.

During an interview, Phoenix admitted to shooting Walker and later selling the murder weapon to a stranger, according to police.

"They had a previous relationship,” JSO Chief of Investigations T.K. Waters said of Phoenix and Walker. He would not go into detail about the relationship.

Investigators said they spent hundreds of hours working on this case. Waters said they have spoken with Walker’s family, who said they were grateful to finally hear of an arrest.

After Walker's murder and two others within less than six months, a transgender advocacy group called for a change in the way transgender people are identified by the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.

"She lived her life as a woman. She lived her life in peace," transgender activist Paige Mahogany Parks said of Celine.

Parks hopes Walker's family will be at peace knowing an arrest has been made.

"A lot of those crimes that happen with transgender women have been made at the hands of men that they've been involved with," Parks said.

In addition to murder, Phoenix is charged with tampering with evidence.

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