Six days after Meghan Riley Lewis was shot dead, South Main Street in her hometown of Bel Air remained decorated with bright holiday lights. Diners filled the Tower Italian restaurant, the Buontempo Brothers pizza parlor, and Sean Bolan’s Irish Pub.
On the same block, a few hundred people holding candles gathered on a frosty Tuesday night. They stood in the small plaza in front of the courthouse, around a fountain drained of water and decorated with garland and lights.
Across the street, a few Bel Air Police officers stood watch in front of the Harford County Sheriff’s Office. A man has been arrested and charged in Lewis’ death. Brian Delen, 47, was charged with second-degree murder and first-degree assault. He was released without bail and is scheduled to appear in court Jan. 25. He was also from Bel Air.
That night, Delen allegedly shot Lewis in the abdomen, killing her, after an argument in front of her building. He was delivering food. Perhaps it was personal. Perhaps there was history. Perhaps it was the kind of random rage that erupts every day as people transact their lives. Some kind of slight was perceived, some measure of disrespect detected. Tempers likely engaged.
At least one shot was fired. And someone died, a trans woman whose catchphrase was “stay sparkly.”
Many at the courthouse vigil knew Lewis as a vocal advocate of trans rights. She herself was a trans woman. The organization Trans Maryland helped organize the vigil. So did Upper Chesapeake Bay Pride and Baltimore Safe Haven, a trans-led wellness center.
Among her peers, Lewis was known to have a special affection for trans youths. Some of them spoke at the vigil and said Lewis made them “feel like they had a place they belonged.” Lewis made them feel “whole and human,” one teen said.
Moments of lightness, jokes, puns, and a singalong punctuated the sad occasion. An old friend and former colleague, Lori Woerner, had worked with Lewis in sales at the business software firm SAP. Woerner did not appear but arranged to have a letter read to the crowd.
She explained she knew Lewis before her transition, when she was known to the world as a man. Woerner was shocked when Lewis came out.
“I didn’t understand, but I loved her, and I wanted to understand,” she wrote. “I learned a lot from her. The courage for her to come out in her late 40s, both personally and professionally, is unfathomable to me. I am in awe of her strength.”
Woerner most remembered Lewis not as an advocate, but for her personal kindness. Woerner’s brother Dale was killed in action fighting in Iraq at age 21.
More than six years later, Lewis arranged to find two Marine Corps comrades and flew them in to attend Woerner’s wedding in 2011. Lewis gave a speech at the wedding and presented Woerner with an American flag.
“Who goes out of their way to be that considerate and give such grand gestures?” Woerner wrote. “Who is always thinking of everyone else and how they can help? Meghan Lewis.”