HRC Mourns River Nevaeh Goddard, 17-year-old Nonbinary Person Killed in Massachusetts

by Jared Todd

According to their obituary, River “had an amazing, outgoing personality. She was very creative and artistic, she loved to write her own music. Her cuddly nature was only matched by her quick wit, and goofiness.” River (she/they), who also went by Phoenixx and their birth name Neveah, was originally from Rhode Island.

On April 5, 2024, Stow, MA police responded to a call for a wellness check when they were met with resistance from Shane Curry of Stow. Police were able to make their way inside the home after two hours and found River had been killed by stabbing.

Their death is at least the eighth violent killing of a transgender or gender non-conforming person in 2024. We say “at least” because too often these deaths go unreported — or misreported. They are also among the now 12 minor (under 18 years old) victims of fatal violence identified since HRC tracking began in 2013. River’s death comes just two days after the death of Tee "Lagend Billons" Arnold, a Black transgender man in Florida.

Like all young people, River deserved to live life to its fullest. They deserved to let their creativity shine in this world, but they were brutally taken from their community and loved ones. In honoring River’s loving nature, we will continue to work and show up for young nonbinary and trans kids everywhere. They are not alone and we as a community need to show up to support them as often as we possibly can.”

Tori Cooper, Human Rights Campaign Director of Community Engagement for the Transgender Justice Initiative

According to WBZ CBS, “Curry was charged with assault and battery on a household or family member and assault and battery causing serious bodily injury. An autopsy will be done to determine Goddard’s official cause of death and the Middlesex County DA said additional charges are possible.”

River was listed as a missing child since April 2022 by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. While HRC can't speak to River's personal experiences in foster care with certainty, we can note that LGBTQ+ youth in foster care are more likely to be harassed, face violence, and experience greater than average number of placement disruptions. There are a vast number of residential facilities that place youth based on their sex assigned at birth. As a nonbinary person, River may have anticipated the trauma of not having their gender identity recognized or honored. Given that River was considered a "runaway" for two years, it's possible that their sexual orientation and/or gender identity could have been a factor in them running away.

According to the Trevor Project, 16% of LGBTQ+ youth reported that they had slept away from parents or caregivers because they ran away from home, with more than half (55%) reporting that they ran away from home because of mistreatment or fear of mistreatment due to their LGBTQ+ identity. The same study found that 14% of LGBTQ+ youth reported that they had slept away from parents or caregivers because they were kicked out or abandoned, with 40% reporting that they were kicked out or abandoned due to their LGBTQ+ identity.

Tragically, interpersonal violence accounts for a significant number of fatalities against transgender and gender non-conforming people. A 2023 report by the HRC Foundation, “The Epidemic of Violence Against the Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Community in the United States” found that between 2013 and 2023, almost one in four (22.4%) transgender and gender-expansive people with known killers had their lives taken by an intimate, romantic, sexual, and/or dating partner–including almost half (45.5%) of victims who were under the age of 21. And it is likely this may even be an undercount. To date, the relationship of the victim to the killer is still unknown for a plurality of a third (36%) of all identified cases of fatal violence.

At the state level, transgender and gender non-conforming people in Massachusetts are explicitly protected from discrimination in employment, housing, education and public spaces. Massachusetts does include sexual orientation and gender identity as a protected characteristic in its hate crimes law. Though we have recently seen some political gains that support and affirm transgender people, we have also faced unprecedented anti-LGBTQ+ attacks in the states. In June 2023, the Human Rights Campaign declared a National State of Emergency for LGBTQ+ Americans, as a result of the more than 550 anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced into state houses that year, over 80 of which were signed into law—more than in any other year. As of this writing, almost 400 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced into state houses since the beginning of 2024.

We must demand better from our elected officials and reject harmful anti-transgender legislation at the local, state and federal levels, while also considering every possible way to make ending this violence a reality. It is clear that fatal violence disproportionately affects transgender women of color, especially Black transgender women. The intersections of racism, transphobia, sexism, biphobia and homophobia conspire to deprive them of necessities to live and thrive, so we must all work together to cultivate acceptance, reject hate and end stigma for everyone in the trans and gender non-conforming community.

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