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Akron family hopes arrest will lead to answers in brother's 2020 killing

Brian Powers' family wonders if his death was fueled by prejudice
Posted at 7:04 AM, Mar 14, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-14 07:04:06-04

AKRON, Ohio — After nearly three years of unanswered questions, an Akron family is hoping an arrest in the killing of their brother will finally provide answers.

In 2020, 43-year-old Brian Powers was shot and found dead on a sidewalk near the University of Akron. Police arrested a suspect in the case on Thursday. Powers was gender non-conforming and his family still wonders if he was killed because of his identity.

RELATED: 2 months later, still no answers for family of murdered Akron transgender man

“It’s been a little torturous,” said Powers’ sister Vivian Powers Smith. “It has because of the way he was taken.”

Despite the agony of losing her little brother, Powers Smith can’t help but laugh remembering his playful personality.

“If you would’ve met him, you would’ve loved him,” she said Monday evening at her Akron home, recalling his signature loud laugh and gentle ribbing.

She played a voicemail recording in which Powers teased his niece for not answering.

“You’re supposed to answer my calls. I’m a Powers. I’m not powerless, I’m a Powers,” he says.

Powers Smith added, “He had a rough time in life, but he had a good heart. He didn’t let it tear him up.”

Powers used he/him pronouns, but sometimes went by “Egypt.”

“When he was Brian, he was gorgeous. Six foot two, just a beautiful man,” Powers Smith said. “When he decided, ‘Oh today I’m going to be Egypt...’ Beautiful. I’d be like, ‘How’d you get the lashes and the brows?’”

Powers was dressed as Egypt when he was found shot dead on a sidewalk outside of a church near the University of Akron on June 13, 2020. Police told his family there were no apparent signs of a fight. They wondered if the killing was fueled by prejudice.

“Did you just shoot him because you’d just seen him walking down the street or you just felt like hurting somebody because you were angry? I don’t know and it’s hard,” Powers Smith said.

In a press release Friday, Akron Police said years of investigative work led detectives to suspect Bobby Lee Bell. He was arrested without incident Thursday and charged with Powers’ murder, along with several drug and firearm charges.

“At least now we’re on the road to having someone take accountability, getting him some justice,” Powers Smith said. “And the way I look at it, if this is the person who took my brother, now they can’t take nobody else.”

The motive for the crime is still unclear, but Powers’ family hopes to learn whether he was targeted for his identity.

“I don’t want him just to be a statistic,” Powers Smith said.

In 2020, the Human Rights Campaign said at least 37 transgender and gender non-conforming individuals were killed by violence in the U.S. People of color faced an elevated risk.

In Ohio, hate crimes do not include gender identity or sexual orientation. Though Powers Smith may not ever know why her brother was killed, she hopes to honor his legacy by changing how crimes against LGBTQ individuals are treated.

“I don’t want him to be forgotten. I’m not going to let him be forgotten,” she said. “If [he was killed] because of who he was, I need people to understand that you don’t have to like who someone is. I don’t have to like you. I respect the person.”

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