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Activists join sad vigil for a slain teen

BY DIANA MOSKOVITZ, dmoskovitz@miamiherald.com

Honoring Simmie Wiliams Thursday are his mother, Denise King, and Adam Hopper of Melbourne.About 150 people gathered on an empty lot along Fort Lauderdale's Sistrunk Boulevard on Thursday in memory of a boy that most never knew yet felt they needed to honor.

Flowers were woven into the wire-mesh fence, and stuffed animals lined the top of it. State and federal flags were raised; a rainbow flag waved from a street sign at the corner of Sistrunk and Northwest 10th Avenue.

Several in the crowd -- including the boy's mother, Denise King -- clutched pictures of the teen, his hair in dreadlocks and mouth hinting a smile.

''It is out of bravery that Denise is here to stand with us,'' said Michael Emanuel Rajner, one of about a half-dozen people to speak. Rajner, like many who were at the ceremony, is active in the gay and lesbian causes: He is a national community organizer for the National Association of People with AIDS USA.

The boy the crowd came to honor was 17-year-old Simmie Williams. He was gunned down on Friday while wearing women's clothing in an area known for prostitution. Thursday's brief but poignant ceremony was held at a spot near where he lost his life.

The slaying of Williams is one of two recent events that have rocked Fort Lauderdale, especially its gay and transgender community.

One day after Williams died, a man was beaten up, possibly for being gay, outside the popular Floridian restaurant on Las Olas Boulevard.

Police are still investigating both cases and looking into the possibility that they were hate crimes.

Simmie's death, and the subsequent beating at the Floridian, had prompted many to organize the memorial. It was followed by a town hall forum that more than 200 people attended at the Gay and Lesbian Community Center in Fort Lauderdale. Among those who took part was Carole Benowitz, who came from Delray Beach for the event.

She never knew Simmie -- but felt she had to come.

''It made me very angry,'' said Benowitz, who is part of the group Parents, Families and Friends of Gays and Lesbians. ``It needs to stop. The hate needs to stop. We're all human beings.''

In the auditorium, Simmie's family sat in the front row. His mother was introduced, followed by a two-minute standing ovation.

''Whoever killed my cousin should be a man and step up because you took our loved one away from us,'' Simmie's 19-year-old cousin, Andrea West of Fort Lauderdale, told the crowd.

Among those who attended the memorial and forum were Pat and Lynn Mulder. They are the mother and stepfather of Ryan Skipper, 25, who was stabbed 20 times and dumped on a roadside in Winter Haven in March last year. His death was labeled a hate crime.

Any with information about either crime is asked to call Broward County Crime Stoppers, anonymously, at 954-493-8477.

Main caption: Honoring Simmie Wiliams Thursday are his mother, Denise King, and Adam Hopper of Melbourne. Photo by Charles Trainor Jr.

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