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Body of transgender rights activist pulled from Lake Michigan eight days after she was last seen

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Police recovered the body of a popular Chicago-area transgender rights advocate from Lake Michigan, eight days after the activist was last seen alive. 

The body of Elise Malary, 31, of Evanston, Illinois, was found along the lakefront Thursday afternoon. Police confirmed her identity to ABC 7 on Saturday.

Malary was reported missing on March 11 after her family hadn’t heard from her in two days, something they claimed was out of character.

‘She’s never done anything like this before,’ her sister Fabiana told CBS Chicago. ‘So that’s why it’s been just so alarming for us.’ 

Police claim Malary was last seen near her Evanston apartment, which investigation revealed has been left unlocked. Her car was discovered Tuesday near the border of Rogers Park, just a few blocks away from the activist’s residence.

Authorities allege they found nothing to suggest an indication of foul play at the woman’s home or in her car and have launched an investigation into her passing. The medical examiner said the cause and manner of her death are still pending.

Police recovered the body of Chicago area transgender rights advocate Elise Malary from Lake Michigan on Thursday, eight days after the activist was last seen alive

Police recovered the body of Chicago area transgender rights advocate Elise Malary from Lake Michigan on Thursday, eight days after the activist was last seen alive

Her body was found near Garden Park around 4.30pm Thursday by a 19-year-old who was on a walk with a friend. Malary was reportedly faced down in the water and wearing socks

Malary’s body was discovered by a 19-year-old Swiss man who was visiting his grandmother.

He was on a walk with a friend around 4.30pm Thursday when he saw a woman’s body near Garden Park in the 500 block of Sheridan Square.

‘He saw the legs first, but he was – he was pretty shocked! And, I think he was stunned into silence for the next couple days,’ Ruth Lambach told ABC 7, recounting her grandson’s experience. ‘Her head was evidently faced down in the water.’ 

Lambach said her grandson did not think Malary drowned, noting that she was wearing her socks which would be odd of someone taking a swim. 

‘I know Tristan told me she had socks on, and he couldn’t understand that,’ she explained. ‘Because, he was also, sort of, going through his mind and he didn’t think it was a drowning. He thought maybe someone pushed her in, or maybe she accidentally fell in.’ 

‘It’s beyond words. There’s nothing one could do about it. It’s a tragedy,’ Lambach added. 

Malary was reported missing on March 11 after her family hadn't heard from her in two days, something they claimed was out of character

Malary was reported missing on March 11 after her family hadn’t heard from her in two days, something they claimed was out of character

Police claim Malary was last seen near her Evanston apartment, which investigation revealed has been left unlocked. Her car was discovered Tuesday near the border of Rogers Park, just a few blocks away from the activist's residence

Police claim Malary was last seen near her Evanston apartment, which investigation revealed has been left unlocked. Her car was discovered Tuesday near the border of Rogers Park, just a few blocks away from the activist’s residence

Authorities allege they found nothing to suggest an indication of foul play at the woman's home or in her car and have launched an investigation into her passing. The medical examiner said the cause and manner of her death are still pending

Authorities allege they found nothing to suggest an indication of foul play at the woman’s home or in her car and have launched an investigation into her passing. The medical examiner said the cause and manner of her death are still pending

As Evanston police continue to probe the circumstances surrounding her death, members of the LGBTQ+ community are hailing Malary as a ‘advocate’ who has dedicated her life to ‘standing up for justice’. 

‘The loss of Elise Malary is heartbreaking. My heart goes out to all her loved ones, as well as all of Illinois’ transgender community,’ Governor J.B. Pritzker wrote in a tweet published Saturday.

‘You deserve to feel safe in your home, and I will continue to do everything in my power to make Illinois welcoming and inclusive for everyone.’

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul told ABC 7 that his office ‘lost a member of our family.’ He hopes Malary’s ‘memory [will] inspire all of us to live authentically and have humanity toward all.’ 

Prominent Illinois leaders and activist groups have issued tribute to Malary on social media

Prominent Illinois leaders and activist groups have issued tribute to Malary on social media

Alderwoman Maria Hadden, who represents Chicago’s 49th Ward, tweeted her condolences Saturday, saying in part: ‘I’m heartbroken to share that Elise is no longer alive and with us…our community begin to process her loss and our grief. Elise Malary will be missed terribly.’

According to her LinkedIn, Malary was a founding board member of the Chicago Therapy Collective (CTC), which aims to alleviate LGBTQ health disparities through education, therapy, advocacy and the arts. 

She also worked as a communications associate for Equality Illinois and interned for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago.

The CTC issued a statement on its Instagram page Saturday, reading: ‘Community, we are heartbroken- the reports that Elise Malary was found dead are true. While many of you are anxious to know more, additional information is not available at this time. We ask you to respect the privacy of Elise’s family and loved ones.

‘The outpouring of love, care, and community response reflects the deep impact of Elise’s love and advocacy on so many of us. We hope that you are taking tender care of one another. If you need support, please reach out to us.’

As Evanston police continue to probe the circumstances surrounding her death, members of the LGBTQ+ community are hailing Malary as a'advocate' who has dedicated her life to'standing up for justice'

As Evanston police continue to probe the circumstances surrounding her death, members of the LGBTQ+ community are hailing Malary as a ‘advocate’ who has dedicated her life to ‘standing up for justice’

Malary was a founding board member of the Chicago Therapy Collective (CTC), which aims to alleviate LGBTQ health disparities through education, therapy, advocacy and the arts. She also worked as a communications associate for Equality Illinois and interned for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago

Malary was a founding board member of the Chicago Therapy Collective (CTC), which aims to alleviate LGBTQ health disparities through education, therapy, advocacy and the arts. She also worked as a communications associate for Equality Illinois and interned for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago

CTC founder Iggy Ladden said she was not only a powerful activist, but also a caring friend.

‘Elise Malary was an incredible person. She was a proud black transgender Haitian woman and a tenacious activist. Elise was both gentle and fierce and people were drawn to her energy, contagious smile, and kindness. Elise was never without a thoughtful comment or gesture – this made her incredibly special as a friend and powerful as an activist – she put people at ease,’ Ladden told CBS Chicago.

‘The loss of Elise is a tremendous loss to Chicago’s transgender and LGBTQ+ communities. Elise was also my dear friend, family, and co-conspirator; I am beyond devastated. Now more than ever we must continue uplifting, protecting, and celebrating Black Trans Women. Elise shone bright light into the world: I hope that we all take in that light and shine it forward. ‘ 

Brian Johnson, who worked with Malary for two years at Equality Illinois, said she dedicated her life to ‘lifting up’ the local LGBTQ+ community.

‘Everything that she did whether it was standing up for justice or working with others or being a member of our team was mostly about how she could make sure that the people she cared about, that she was in community with, were doing well,’ he said.

Delia Kropp, who met Malary at a rally in Anderson, Illinois, said there is ‘not going to be any replacing her’. 

‘Really willing to do the work, not just talk about it,’ Kropp told the TV station. ‘Elise knew what it was like to be transgender and all of the personal things that she may have been going through or situations that she may have encountered in everyday life are part of being transgender.’   

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