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Friends, family of gender-variant youth want crime investigation
by Kate Sosin, Windy City Times

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New information about the death of a gender-variant youth last month has cast doubt on reports that the death was accidental.

Friends and family of Michael/Makayla Gwinn want police to investigate a homicide, after a mortician reported that she found signs of trauma on Gwinn's body.

Gwinn, a youth advocate and cosmetologist, was found dead Feb. 16 outside a residence in Ravenswood. Gwinn was 23.

Initial reports suggested that the a cause of death might be related to drug overdose, but new information has made DaMina Ross, Gwinn's foster parent, suspicious about the cause of death.

Kareshuna Brooks, the mortician who prepared Gwinn's body, said she found bright red bruises and unhealed scrapes on Gwinn.

"There's been some abuse in terms of battery," Brooks said. "There definitely was some kind of altercation before death."

Brooks said she is not speculating on the cause of death and could not determine how old the wounds were. But she said, scrapes on Gwinn's hands had not healed into scabs yet, suggesting that they could have been recent. Brooks also found bruises on Gwinn's lower body.

"Something has happened here," she said. "[I] don't want to speculate, but something has happened. There has been trauma."

Ross said hypothermia had been reported as one possible cause of death, in addition to drug overdose.

According to Ross, Gwinn's boyfriend received a call mid-morning on Feb. 16. The call was made from Gwinn's phone, but all that could be heard was a television in the background.

"I find that very suspicious," said Ross. "This needs to be investigated. It really does…Something occurred that was out of his control."

Chicago Police News Affairs Officer John Mirabelli said that the investigation is ongoing pending a toxicology report. He said a preliminary time of death was 4:00 a.m.

The Cook County Medical Examiner's office confirmed the pending toxicology report, but said that Gwinn was pronounced deceased at 10:44 a.m.

Ross said that a detective told her Gwinn was found at noon on Feb. 16.

Those conflicting reports have given Ross and Gwinn's biological family pause, Ross said. She is hoping that those who might know what happened to Gwinn will come forward.

Gwinn had been involved in Chicago's LGBT community, working with young people. For a time, Gwinn went by the name "Makayla" and identified as transgender. More recently, said Ross, Gwinn used his birth name, "Michael" and usually presented as male.

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