By Dawn Wolfe Gutterman
PONTIAC – Pontiac police have released a sketch of the suspect involved in the October beating of two trans women in Pontiac outside of The Liberty Bar.
Police say the suspect is a male of unknown race, age 45-50, with severe acne or pitted scars on his cheeks. He is 5’8″ – 6’0″ tall, weighs 170-180 pounds and was driving a 1990-1993 dark-colored Ford F-150 pickup truck with gray primer spots on the front during the night of the assault.
Readers who have any information about the October beating or recognize the suspect in the police sketch can call Detective Jaclyn Wilton at 248-758-3341.
The two transgender women who were assaulted have found friends in the wider LGBT community. So far, a November event has raised $2,000 to help the two with medical expenses, and another fundraising event is planned for December.
The money will come just in time for victim Tanya Priest. According to Priest, her friend and co-victim not only does not have health insurance, but also is self-employed and lost several days’ work while undergoing surgery to recover from the beating.
“The first [medical] bill she got was for $34,000,” Priest said.
Priest’s life has also been drastically affected by the October assault.
“In ten days I got beat half to death, I lost my job and I had a sex change operation. So it was a pretty intense ten days,” she said. Priest was laid off from her job as a skilled tradesperson for the Pontiac school district a few days before the assault.
Priest explained that, even though the beating has complicated recovery from her gender reassignment surgery, she felt it was necessary to go ahead with the procedure because she had waited so long.
“I’d been on the list for the surgery since early April and it takes awhile to get on,” Priest said. “The lady who did my surgery is backed up a year ahead of time. It was so critical for me to have this surgery even though I had been almost beaten to death.” Priest suffered a broken rib and two facial fractures.
Priest had nothing but praise for the reaction of the Pontiac community, both LGBT and allied, to the assault against her and her friend.
“I was so fortunate to have the LGBT community that came around and supported me,” she said.
Of the November fundraiser, which took place outside the Liberty Bar, Priest said, “It was incredible, and I met such wonderful, wonderful people. A good percentage of the money came from straight people.”
In addition, “There was a couple of churches in Pontiac that held a collection and donated the money – it’s just been totally awesome out here,” she said.
According to community member Ellen Zimmermann, the next fundraiser for the two assault victims is planned for Dec. 10. The event will feature an auction, and organizers are seeking donations. So far organizers have collected artwork and quilts as well as tickets to a local comedy club donated by the Triangle Foundation.
“The community as a whole has come together and it’s really been gratifying,” Zimmermann said. “This is the closest I’ve been to a victim of violence, and it’s really affected me on a basic level. We needed to do something to counteract that – something good had to come out of it.”