ITHACA, N.Y. — On Tuesday, Josie Berrios was found killed at a Collegetown construction site in Ithaca.

Since then, there’s been a whirlwind of developments including an arrest, a call from police for more information, a planned vigil, and an outpouring of support from the community. Listed below are updates about the crime, how best to honor Josie Berrios and what people can do to show solidarity with her family.

What happened?

On Tuesday morning, police were called to a construction site at 209/215 Dryden Road, located in Collegtown, for a report of a dead body.

Police said they found Berrios dead at the scene, apparently in the part of the building under construction. According to a felony complaint filed by police, Berrios had “apparent burns” to her body. Police say an accellerant, in the form of a gallon of gasoline, was found at the scene. During the investigation, a black duffel bag was located at 309 College Ave.

Surveillance video allegedly shows a man named Michael Davis wearing an Alpha Security Bureau uniform shirt while carrying the duffel bag early Tuesday morning. Video also showed Davis leaving the area without the duffel bag and no longer wearing the uniform shirt, the accusatory states.

The duffel bag was later found, police say, containing an Alpha Security Bureau uniform shirt worn by Davis in the video and a green lighter. A photograph of Davis taken Monday evening shows Davis with the same duffel bag wearing the uniform shirt in the building where Berrios was found. Police also allegedly found plastic bags that contained work gloves and clothing with an odor of petroleum at Davis’ residence.

Davis, 45, of Dryden, has been charged with second-degree murder and first-degree arson. Davis is accused of killing Berrios and is being held without bail at the Tompkins County Jail.

Related — Update: Man charged with murder and arson in connection with death in Collegetown

Josie Berrios and the LGBTQ+ community

The Ithaca Voice typically does not explicitly state the gender or sexual orientation of people in our coverage.

However, Berrios was a well known performer at the House of Merlot and the LGBTQ+ community has been impacted by her death in ways other people have not been impacted.

In an effort to support the LGBTQ+ community and increase understanding about how best to talk about Josie, the House of Merlot booking agent and performer Kat Von Riesling has given The Voice permission to republish some information from the House of Merlot Facebook page.

Josie Berrios was a transgender woman. She was known and referred to as Kendra and Josie by the people she knew and loved.

Her family has informed The Voice through a mediator that they are in full support of referring to their loved one as Josie.

The House of Merlot stated on their Facebook page, “To most, she was known personally as Josie. She was working to have her name legally changed to Kendra Adams before the events that occurred.”

She was called Kimbella Rosé onstage, which is the accurate way to refer to her or her work as a performer.


Was this a hate crime?

As of Friday morning, Davis has not been charged with any hate crimes. To be clear, that doesn’t mean Davis will never be charge with a hate crime – it’s not unusual for charges to be modified – it just means that Davis has not initially been charged with a hate crime.

Officials have not released a motive for the killing or indicated how Berrios died. Those details may be released in court documents within the next few months, but there’s no guarantee this is something the public will know any time soon.

According to the House of Merlot, Berrios and Davis knew each other prior to the killing.

It’s worth noting, though, that 2017 was on track to become the most violent year ever recorded for transgender people. In 2016, 27 transgender people were killed in the United States. So far in 2017, 13 transgender people have been killed in the country, according to GLAAD.

Are there any updates about what happened to Josie Berrios?

So far, there is not a lot of new information from police about the crime. This is not unusual. Police often withhold information from the public and press while they investigate a crime.

However, the Ithaca Police Department released the following request for information from the public:

On Wed 6/14/17 Ithaca Police put out a request to the public concerning someone who may have been seen walking or hitchhiking on Ellis Hollow Road, Turkey Hill Road or Ellis Hollow Creek Rd during the early morning hours of Tuesday 6/13/17.

Ithaca Police are now asking residents in those areas who have security cameras to check them for anyone walking by their residences between the hours of 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. on Tue 6/13/17.

Police are asking anyone with information about of video of the incident to contact the Ithaca Police Department at:

  • Police Dispatch: 607-272-3245
  • Crime Stoppers Tipline: 607-697-0333
  • Drug Tipline 607-330-0000
  • Email Tip Address: http://www.cityofithaca.org/FormCenter/Ithaca-Police-Department-5/Ithaca-Police-Department-Tipline-47
  • Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ithacapolice
  • Twitter: https://twitter.com/ithacapolice
  • Instagram: ithacapolice

Are there any public vigils or fundraisers planned for Josie Berrios?

Yes, there is a vigil but beware of donations pages.

The safest and best way to donate to the Berrios family by donating to them here. This fundraiser is being run by Valerie Berrios, Josie Berrios’s sister.

There are several other donation pages set up for Berrios, but it’s difficult to verify the legitimacy of all of them. A good rule of thumb in this case, only donate to the official page linked to above.

A public vigil will happen at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Bernie Milton Pavilion in The Ithaca Commons. Berrios’ funeral will be reserved for family members only, unless a person has been informed otherwise.

The House of Merlot posted the following information about the vigil on their Facebook page:

“On the commons by the Bernie Milton Pavillion we will hold a vigil for our dearly departed sister. This is not a political rally. This is not a call for activism. She knew many people throughout Ithaca, so this is their chance to mourn. The funeral will be private and for the family only. This is the public’s chance to grieve her, as requested by members of the family.

Schedule:
7:00-7:30 Gathering and set-up/candle distribution
7:30-7:40 opening by Minister Shirley Reeve
7:40-7:45 Jai and Johnathan Meyerhof will perform a song
7:45-7:55 Mayoral address
7:55-8:05 Candle Lighting and moment of silence for the deceased, announced by House of Merlot sisters
8:05-9:50 Open mic to say positive words about Josie and life experiences.*
9:50-10:00 Closing song by Burns & Kristy

*Please no political rallying cries/general statements of activism/mourning/”how fucked up this all is.” While those thoughts are understandable and appreciated, that’s not what we’re here for tonight. Tribute songs and poetry, however, are permitted and encouraged. Please keep your language G rated regardless.”

On Thursday, the House of Merlot will be performing their annual show for Pride Month. It’s happening from 9 p.m. to midnight at The Range, located on the second floor at 119 E. State St. in the Ithaca Commons.

Entry is $5 and the event is for people 21-years-old or older with a valid ID.

The House of Merlot stated on the Facebook event page, “We will open with a community address about pride, in general, and then dedicate this year’s show to Kimbella. Before each performance, performers will be permitted to speak some words in her honor. Before intermission, we will hold a moment of silence for her, and toast to her life. The Range has ordered a limited supply of Rose’ for the occasion. After the intermission, we will address the 1 year anniversary of the Pulse massacre via Alisha Day.We will then continue with the performers.”

For a complete list of performers, visit the event site here.

When is the next court appearance for this case?

The next court appearance for this case will be at 9 a.m. Monday at Ithaca City Court, located at 118 E. Clinton St., where Davis will have a felony preliminary hearing in front of Judge Scott Miller.

The case is being prosecuted by Deputy District Attorney Andrew Bonavia. Attorney James Baker will be representing Davis.

In all likelihood, this will be a very short court appearance. During a FPH for a serious case, the defense usually formally waives the hearing and the defendant’s case is then transferred to the Tompkins County Court, where felonies are handled. Bail for Class A felonies cannot be set at the city court, so Davis is currently being held without bail.

After the case is transferred to the Tompkins County Court, there can be a wait for the next step in the legal process. Davis can be indicted within six-months, bringing the case one step closer to a trial. An indictment can also take place much sooner than six months, but it usually at least takes a few weeks.

Davis can also work through his attorney to try to secure a plea deal during this time. There are a few other legal motions that could happen during this time, but aforementioned two are the likeliest two options.

If you plan on going to any appearances at either court, it should be noted that there are general rules in place for entering a courthouse. For instance, signs will most likely not be allowed in a courthouse. All people must go through a metal detector (unless there is a medical issue prohibiting this). Cameras and recorders are not allowed in courthouses and phones cannot be used inside the courtroom. Parking is scarce at both courthouses. Be prepared to pay for parking.

Both courthouses are ADA accessible.

It should also be noted that security or a judge could determine that “offensive” clothing is not allowed. Messages strongly advocating for somebody’s innocence or guilt could be prohibited if a judge decides to do so.

Contact a court officer with concerns about what is permitted.

Community Resources

Planned Parenthood has a list of helpful resources for Trangender people on its website here. The page includes information about how to obtain health services and formally change documents to reflect one’s chosen name, gender identity, etc.

The Ithaca College Center for LGBT Education, Outreach & Services Facebook page published the following statement, along with a list of resources:

Many in our community knew Josie Berrios/Kendra Marie Adams well, others are just now learning about this beautiful young trans woman of color. Her death impacts many of us, in many different ways. We wanted to share the following information from our colleagues at Suicide Prevention and Crisis Services in Ithaca, as well as additional resources compiled by the IC LGBT Center that may be helpful now and in the future (these are always available on line via the IC LGBT Center website too). Please take care of one another, and reach out. Tragedies like this and violence towards us hurt so much. Our communities are filled with remarkable, resilient people, seek out what you need and please take care of one another.

An extraordinary tragedy took place in our community when a murder occurred in Collegetown yesterday. The After-Trauma Service at Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service offers free trauma counseling to all members of our community. Our hearts go out to the loved ones of the victim. If you need support, you can arrange for up to eight free counseling sessions with our trauma counselor by calling 607-272-1505. You can get immediate support through the Crisisline by calling 607-272-1616; you can also get support through text messaging, Monday through Friday from 6 to 9 pm at 607-269-4500.

Additional resources:
National Hotlines/Resources:
The Trevor Project (http://www.thetrevorproject.org/)
(866) 488-7386
The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender National Hotline (http://www.glbtnationalhelpcenter.org/)
(888) 843-4564
The GLBT National Youth Talkline (http://www.glnh.org/talkline/)
(Youth serving youth through age 25)
(800) 246-7743
The TransLifeline Transgender Crisis: (http://www.translifeline.org/)
(877) 565-8860
The National Runaway Switchboard
1-800-RUNAWAY
Crisis Text Line: 741-741 (http://www.crisistextline.org/)

Crisis Text Line Serves anyone, in any type of crisis, providing access to free, 24/7 support and information via text. Simple text 741-741 from anywhere in the USA, anytime, about any type of crisis. A live, trained Crisis Counselor receives the text and responds quickly, helping you “move from a hot moment to a cool moment.” Please note that this Crisis Text Line is not specific to LGBTQ+ people.

Other LGBTQ+ groups are available to advocate for rights, and may be a comfort to people who are looking to find community during this time.

The Ithaca is Love Facebook group can be reached here.

The Finger Lakes PULSE Facebook can be found here. 

Have more resources for us? Please add them in the comments section.

Jolene Almendarez

Jolene Almendarez is Managing Editor at The Ithaca Voice. She can be reached at jalmendarez@ithacavoice.com; you can learn more about her at the links in the top right of this box.