Trans woman killed while volunteering at a Baptist Homeless Shelter

Kimberly Susan Fial
Kimberly's Facebook profile picture is framed with the flowers her friends said she adored. R.I.P. Kimberly Susan Fial

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Kimberly Susan Fial
Kimberly’s Facebook profile picture is framed with the flowers her friends said she adored. R.I.P. Kimberly Susan Fial

Transgender woman Kimberly Fial, 55, was murdered on Nov. 22, in the Grace Baptist Church shelter where she volunteered. Wednesday the Santa Clara County Coroner’s Office identified Kimberly Fial as the second fatality in the stabbing attack that injured three other shelter volunteers.

San Jose PD press release identified the suspect as Fernando Lopez. He was arrested on 11/22/2020 by SJPD patrol Officers near the scene of the incident and remains in custody without bail.

On November 22nd, 2020, at approximately 7:54 PM, Officers responded to the Grace Baptist Church on the 400 block of East San Fernando Street on a report of a stabbing. When they arrived, they located five victims suffering from at least one stab wound each. An adult male victim was declared deceased at the scene. A second adult female victim was transported to a local hospital where she succumbed to her injuries and was declared deceased.

Fernando Lopez
Fernando Lopez / SJPD booking photo

Fernando Jesus Lopez, 32, has been charged with two counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder in connection with a Nov. 22, 2020, mass stabbing at a homeless shelter at Grace Baptist Church in downtown San Jose, a place where he had stayed and volunteered. (San Jose Police Dept.)

Fernando Jesus Lopez, 32, initially refused to be escorted to a San Jose courtroom Thursday, and his arraignment was held over to Monday. Last week, his original arraignment hearing was postponed because of a COVID-19 exposure concern at the Main Jail, according to authorities. He remains in custody without bail.

Three other adult male victims were transported to local hospitals. The last known condition of the survivors was serious but stable condition.

A friend of hers, still in shock over this act of violence confirmed with planet trans that she lived in her authentic gender. He said:

“Yes, I know Kimberly and I am shocked to hear about her murder. She was such a kind and loving person.” He said

Mercury News reporting from the vigil talked with friends who knew Fial as a proud trans woman and a vet.

Related: San Jose police department first to fly our Pride Flag

Ms. Fial arrived at Grace Baptist Church as a shelter guest in the middle of the year, and almost as soon as she got there, she started pitching in to help staff however she could, said shelter manager Anthony Mastrocola. That included helping make and serve dinner, passing out coffee in the morning, and running the shelter’s shower arrangements.

“My heart always felt warm when I saw her when I got into the building,” Mastrocola said. “One, I’m thinking ‘OK I know everything’s under control.’ And two, she’s just a good person.”

They also said she loved bright colors, and could usually be seen in hot pink shoes and colorful leggings, sipping a soda — her favorites were Coke and Dr. Pepper. And her quiet temperament belied her ability to draw a laugh out of people around her.

“She had a twinkle in her eye. This little smile,” said Shaunn Cartwright, who uses the church as a base for her homeless outreach efforts. “It was kind of like, ‘What are you up to?”

On the night of the stabbing, Cartwright was at the church with other volunteers, making foam tombstones for their annual memorial to unhoused people who died in the county over the past year. The group unwittingly stayed too late, with Fial waiting for them to clear their supplies out of the Grace Baptist gym so she could lay out the sleeping mats for the night.

But Fial was too nice to say anything, Cartwright said. When Cartwright finally left for the night, Fial was setting up the mats with Lopez, the man now accused of killing her.

According to San Jose police investigators, Lopez attacked Paulson first with a chef’s knife, inflicting a fatal injury that resulted in Paulson dying at the scene. Then Lopez stabbed a man staying at the shelter; this victim told police that as he ran to safety, he saw Lopez stab Fial.

As another shelter guest and volunteer came to Fial’s aid, Lopez stabbed him in the back, he told police. The fifth victim, who survived, reported that Lopez ambushed him in the bathroom and slashed him with the knife. A blood-smeared Lopez was found and arrested about 12 minutes later by a San Jose police officer canvassing the area.

Mastrocola said he was down the street when the attack began, but rushed back to the shelter after a staff member called him. When he arrived, guests were running in panic, and he immediately saw one of his staff members covered in blood. Inside, he saw a body on the floor of the kitchen, which according to police would have been Paulson.

Mastrocola is still coming to grips with the idea that Lopez could commit these acts.

“He had us all thinking, this dude is solid,” Mastrocola said. “He’s helpful. He’s respectful. He’s thoughtful.”

But Mastrocola had noticed Lopez becoming increasingly paranoid. And people who knew him suspected he had slipped and gone back to using drugs, particularly meth.

Case #20-327-0706 is the 40th and 41st murder in San Jose this year.

Anyone with information is asked to contact Detective Sergeant Lewis #3161 or Detective Meeker #3272 of the San Jose Police Department’s Homicide unit at 408-277-5283.

Persons wishing to remain anonymous may call the Crime Stoppers hotline at 408-947-7867.

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Kelli, Busey is managing editor at Planet Transgender