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Editor’s Note: This is a developing story and will be updated if necessary.
* Correction, 8 p.m. June 11, 2020
A woman who died in a fall from Midtown Towers was in fear for her life before the incident, a childhood friend said Thursday.
Terrance McGeorge said Aaliyah Johnson, who was transgender, was threatened with murder by a man with whom she had been linked, and who was angry and embarrassed because other people might find out.*
McGeorge, who is one of the leaders of a group called Project Matters, is helping to organize a march that is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. Friday at the Jerome Avenue Bridge, proceed past the Public Safety Building on Lysle Boulevard, and end near Johnson’s apartment.
The march is intended to be peaceful, he said. Attendees are being asked to wear blue — Johnson’s favorite color — and to carry a candle. Participants should park in the lot near the McKees Point Marina, he said.
Johnson, whose age has been given as both 32 and 33, was found dead the morning of May 26 on the sidewalk in the 500 block of Sinclair Street, Downtown. Allegheny County police are investigating.
“What we know is that she suffered some sort of a threat from a former lover,” McGeorge said Thursday.
McGeorge, who has known Johnson since both were 16 years old, and who participated in the Pittsburgh area LGBTQ ballroom scene with her, said organizers are hoping to draw attention to her plight and urge Allegheny County police to dig more deeply into her death.
Organizers initially said the march was to begin at the 15th Avenue Bridge and proceed to the “McKeesport Courthouse” on O’Neil Boulevard.
McGeorge, who lives on Pittsburgh’s South Side, said there apparently was confusion about the names of the two bridges, both of which cross the Youghiogheny River, and that the march will stay in the Downtown area.
He said Black gay, lesbian, transgender and queer people find few places to turn for help in communities outside of the City of Pittsburgh.
“She did have a drug abuse problem,” he said. “That, unfortunately, is true. But at the same time, the police are ruling it a suicide when we’re hearing there are other layers to the story. We’re hearing multiple different stories. That’s why a fair and just investigation is so important.”
Johnson had been assaulted inside her apartment on previous occasions, McGeorge said.
“There are many Black queer people in the city who need some level of support,” he said. “They need to feel safe. We also need to make sure there are people in those communities who do not cause them harm.”
McGeorge said Johnson’s friends and family are willing to talk to Allegheny County police about threats that were made to her life.
“There is a lack of support for the LGBTQ community in (places) such as McKeesport,” he said. “Where was her safe space? Maybe if there was something (available) for her, she would have been able to get the resources she needed.”
Johnson had a prominent social media profile and was known as a hairstylist, makeup artist and commentator at drag shows and other events.
“She had a presence,” McGeorge said. “We grew up together and we’re not going to let this be swept under the rug.”
He said friends have been told that Johnson may have laid on the sidewalk on Sinclair Street for up to five hours before her death was reported.
“We’re not going to let her death go in vain,” he said. “We’re here in the community and we’re going to stand up for people who are LGBT. Our lives are just as important as everyone else’s. When it comes to Black queer lives, they need that protection.”
On Thursday afternoon, responding to rumors posted on Facebook that business owners were being told to close their stores at 2 p.m. Friday because of the protest, McKeesport police issued a statement via social media.
The rumors, McKeesport police said on the department’s Facebook page, were “not accurate” and added that no business closures have “been requested by the City of McKeesport Mayor’s Office or McKeesport Police Department.”
In an emailed statement Thursday, Port Vue police said that officers will monitor traffic near the 15th Avenue Bridge as a precaution and recommended that motorists avoid the area.
Correction: This story originally said that Johnson was threatened by a man who didn’t know she was transgender. McGeorge said the man knew but was angry about other people finding out.
Jason Togyer is editor of The Tube City Almanac and volunteer executive director of Tube City Community Media Inc. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published June 11, 2020.