A man has been charged in the death of Zoe Spears, a 23-year-old transgender woman fatally shot last month in Prince George's County.
Gerardo Thomas, 33, of Baltimore, was arrested Wednesday in Cecil County, Prince George's police announced Thursday. He was charged with first-degree murder and is being held without bond.
Police were able to track down the suspected killer in part because his rental car had a distinctive color of silver paint, Maj. Brian Reilly said at a news conference Thursday afternoon.
Detectives used a grainy home surveillance camera image of the car, a Dodge Caravan GT, to find him. With help from a retired officer who worked at a car dealership, they learned that the minivan had an unusual color of paint: Billet Silver.
They worked with multiple police departments across the D.C. area to study tens of thousands of hits from license plate readers and find the exact minivan.
"Eventually, out of the 30,000 [license plate reader hits], it was narrowed down to one vehicle that was hit on a license plate reader approximately two hours prior to the murder, approximately a half-mile away," Reilly said.
Then, detectives found out who rented the vehicle, got a warrant and questioned him.
"He admitted to being in the area and armed and in that vehicle at the time of the murder," Reilly said.
Chief Hank Stawinski praised the detectives for their police work.
"It was grit and determination that led to the identification of the individual responsible for callously taking Zoe’s life," he said in a statement. "Homicide Unit detectives worked around the clock on this case throughout the past five weeks, initially with nothing more to go on than a grainy surveillance image of the killer’s van."
Spears was shot multiple times on June 13 near Eastern Avenue in Fairmount Heights.
She was the second trans woman to be killed in the area this year.
Ashanti Carmon was found shot to death in March, and her homicide remains unsolved. She also was shot on Eastern Avenue.
"There is no link, as of this moment, between these two cases," Reilly said Thursday.
Friends said in June that Spears told multiple people she had witnessed Carmon's killing and feared for her life. She was trying to move from her apartment on Eastern Avenue because she was afraid, friends said.
However, detectives do not believe Spears was killed because she was a witness, Reilly said. The motive for the killing is still under investigation.
Spears went from being homeless to living independently with a dream of being a lawyer. Friends remembered her for her independent spirit and love for life.
Transgender individuals, especially women of color, face extraordinary levels of violence and assault, the National Center of Transgender Equality says.
Prince George's police formed an LGBTQ outreach team that will assist with cases in the future, the department announced Thursday.
Anyone with information is asked to contact Prince George's County Police at 301-772-4925.