Nineteen-year-old Mollie Judith Olgin died of her injuries, while Mary Kristene Chapa, 18, was transported to a local hospital and is in stable condition. Both were shot in the head.
A suspect or motive has yet to be identified.
Passersby in Violet Andrews Park found the two teenage girls in a grassy area of the nature park in Portland, Texas, early Saturday morning. Two witnesses heard what they said could have been gunshots or firecrackers around midnight Friday but police were not called at the time.
Investigators on the scene found a bullet casing from a “large caliber handgun” but no weapon. Olgin’s vehicle was found near the scene.
The teens, who were reportedly a couple for five months, were found in an area of knee-high grass just below a wooden observation deck that overlooks the park. Investigators believe that the teens were walked from the deck, down the hill, where they were shot execution-style.
LGBT advocates have likened the incident to the 1998 murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard, who was lured to a remote area, beaten and tied to a fence.
Portland Police Chief Randy Wright told a local news station that the crime has the “earmarks of a targeted attack,” but stopped short of saying if police believe it was related to the victims’ sexual orientation.
“Information from family and friends indicates that Mollie and Mary were engaged in a same-sex relationship,” police said in a statement Tuesday. “However, there is no current evidence to indicate the attacks were motivated by that relationship.”
As of press time, Chapa had not yet been interviewed because of her condition.
The investigation is being led by Portland Police Department, and on Sunday criminal-investigative unit Texas Rangers were brought in to assist.
The shooting is unusual for the small south Texas town of 16,000 residents outside of Corpus Christi, which last reported a murder in 2010.
Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin expressed condolences to the victims’ families and said his agency is urging law enforcement to look at all aspects of the case.
“Regardless of the motivation behind this tragedy, we must send a strong message that violence against anyone is never acceptable,” Griffin said. “We have reached out to law-enforcement officials at both the federal and local levels and hope to see a thorough investigation. These women, and all victims of violent crimes, deserve nothing less.”
Equality Texas said in a statement that it has been in touch with the Department of Justice’s Community Relations Service, which provides mediation and conflict-resolution and works to prevent and respond to hate crimes, and the agency has offered its assistance. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is also assisting in the case.
Friends of the victims have told local media outlets that the teens’ relationship was widely accepted in their circles.
Equality Texas is holding a candlelight vigil Friday night, and communities around the country are doing the same.
Philadelphia will hold a vigil from 7:30-9 p.m. at Love Park, with a moment of silence for Olgin and Chapa and speakers who will address violence against women and lesbians specifically.
For more information, visit www.facebook.com/events/201502233309303/.