In the months following the murder of Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells, members of the Philadelphia trans community of color have been exchanging information regarding her suspected killer. In an ongoing investigation, the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) issued a warrant for the arrest of Akhenaton Jones, though he is not currently in custody. An officer from the PPD confirmed in an email that the investigation is still ongoing and that they could not provide new information.
While community texts and emails have not unearthed concrete info about Jones’ whereabouts, he is believed to be hiding out in New Jersey, according to Kendall Stephens, a leader in the local trans community.
“There’s been just a whirlwind of rumors and conjecture around where he may be, who he may be with, and that’s where the community is right now,” Stephens said. “Of course, we don’t know how true any of this is.”
Stephens worked with the Citizens Crime Commission and the PPD to put out a $25,000 reward to expedite Jones’ arrest. Stephens contributed $5,000 of the reward from funds she raised after she was attacked in her home in August. She posted about the reward on her GoFundMe page.
“I want to encourage Rem’mie’s family to at least match me dollar for dollar, if not more,” Stephens added. “That’s all that I care about right now — this man being brought into custody. It’s not happening fast enough. If the rumors I’ve heard are true, then he’s still maintaining contact with the trans community, and any contact at this point with the trans community can be very dangerous for anyone who crosses his path.”
Both Stephens and Celena Morrison confirmed that Jones was well-known in the local trans community of color.
“I think what happened is that there were so many feelings of, ‘I know this person, this could have been me,’ that folks felt the need to reach out to other folks who they know may have also known him,” Morrison said. She told PGN that she too was introduced to Jones in the past.
“It was a realization that this is someone who was kind of navigating through the trans community, meeting trans women, meeting trans men, dating them, partying with them,” Morrison continued. “Most of the time the folks that commit these crimes are in some way connected to the community, and sometimes it’s a result of them not wanting this information to be out with the stigma that’s surrounding it.”
Stephens commented on the harm that stems from the fetishization of trans people.
“We’re talking about a very sick infatuation with the trans community that some people have,” Stephens explained. “It makes them start to obsess, and that obsession often leads to violence.”
Stephens and Morrison said that they are both anxious for an arrest to be made in Fells’ case, as are many in the trans community.
“The community’s not going to let this go away,” Morrison said. “This is something that has to be seen all the way through. It’s really important how things are handled right now, because you don’t want to send the signal that it’s open season on any community of folks. [Rem’mie] deserves justice, and the family deserves justice. She was someone’s baby girl.”
Fells was indeed well-loved in the community. She illuminated rooms with her joy and fashion smarts. “You would have noticed [Rem’mie] from the crowd, for sure,” Stephens said.
She and Fells met at Morris Home, a recovery center for trans and gender nonbinary individuals, where Fells was a program participant and Stephens was a volunteer. Stephens told Fells about her experience with homelessness as a young adult and her subsequent academic career, which in turn inspired Fells to pursue studies in business and fashion design.
“Even though the circumstances are horrifying, we’re celebrating [Rem’mie’s] life,” Stephens said. “Also, the fact that she was someone who really experienced so many barriers to success and still found it in her every day to smile, and to dream — that’s what made me connect with her.”
Stephens herself was recently assaulted in her home by a group of people. Regarding the assault, Stephens told PGN she was able to identify one of her assailants in a police lineup.
“Now I’m just waiting for a swift arrest so we can put this to bed,” Stephens said. “I’m just allowing the wheels of justice to spin, and hopefully this woman can receive some kind of help. The level of aggression and hatred is something that I hadn’t experienced on a one-on-one basis in quite some time.”
In addition to donating half of her GoFundMe funds to the William Way LGBT Community Center and setting aside $5,000 for a reward for Fells’ suspected killer, Stephens gave $5,000 to people in the community, “people who needed the money for rent, or a cell phone bill or just because they didn’t have any money at all,” she said.
Stephens added that she wants to help fight for policies and hate crime legislation that protect trans lives as well as for more strict punishments for those who commit violent acts against members of the trans community.
“I just don’t understand why we don’t have more legal protections,” she said. “I really want to, if I have to, be the face of hate crime legislation for LGBTQ people, especially trans people, because right now we’re not being protected. Right now we’re at a very pronounced vulnerability, and we feel it.”