Ky Peterson brushed off the stranger hitting on him outside a convenience store in Americus, Ga., without a second thought. It's not like he hadn't rebuffed a stranger's advances before. But as he walked home past an unoccupied trailer on October 28, 2011, something hard struck the back of his head. He blacked out. When he came to, the stranger from the sidewalk was on top of him, naked and spitting homophobic slurs at the 20-year-old black trans man as he forced himself inside Peterson.
"I freaked out," Peterson tells The Advocate. "I screamed." He kept screaming — in pain, in fear. Perhaps, also, in surprise: It was happening again. He was being raped on his walk home, and no one would help him. Especially not the police. Last time he was attacked in his own neighborhood, the cops could barely be bothered to file the report, and thinking they’d investigate? Maybe even arrest the guy? A fantasy.
This was reality. This moment. Live or die.
Peterson hollered again. Adrenaline kicked in, an animal instinct: fight or flight. He struck out at the man, who struck back. They struggled, and in the split seconds Peterson’s thoughts fought for attention in his pounding head: How long was I unconscious? How do I get to the door? What hit me in the back of the skull?
Is he going to kill me?
Suddenly, the pitch black of the trailer revealed a slice of murky light. Peterson heard two familiar voices shouting: his younger brothers. They must have trailed home from the store a few minutes after him, following the trio’s usual path back through the trailer park. He heard the two boys call his name; he heard the sound of their sneakers scuff on the floor as they pulled at his attacker. He took a gulp of air as the stranger’s weight was thrown off of him, heard their voices raised in an argument. He knew he couldn’t lay still there, even as his injuries revealed themselves to him in a wave of aches.
He stood up, now on one side of the trailer with his two brothers flanking him. He saw the shadowed figure of the naked stranger charging forward. He didn't have time to think as his fingers grasped the smooth metal of the gun he'd started carrying in his backpack as a nighttime precaution ever since his first rape. Then Peterson made a decision he'd hoped he’d never have to. He pulled the trigger. The trailer filled with an impossibly loud bang. A silence descended, an eerie stillness after the hellish scraping and grunting that had filled the air moments earlier. The stranger’s body slumped over and became motionless. Three sets of wide eyes looked at each other. Panic set in, settling down in Peterson’s gut alongside feelings of shock and trauma.
There was no way out between this rock and hard place, it seemed: His brothers both had criminal records, and whether Peterson went to the police or waited for them to discover the stranger’s body in the trailer, he knew the young Black men would be painted as murderers. Damned if he did, damned if he didn’t … unless the police never found out, he considered. Shaking and terrified, sitting next to the dead man contemplating his fate for an hour, Peterson then made the second unthinkable move that night: He walked to his mother’s nearby trailer and retrieved her car, put the body in the trunk with his brothers’ assistance, stuffed the man’s scattered clothes into a bag he would later discard, and drove to a quiet, tree-lined street.
Although Peterson had brought a shovel and planned to bury the body in the woods, the headlights of a passing car startled the 20-year-old, prompting him to leave the body on the side of a rural road with no means of identification. He hoped this nightmare would all go away. "I didn't go out looking for trouble," Peterson recalls in a recent phone call from Pulaski State Prison, where he is currently serving a 20-year sentence for involuntary manslaughter. He tells The Advocate that he and his brothers often hung out at the convenience store just 50 yards outside the entrance to the trailer park they called home. And while Peterson carried a gun for protection, he'd never had to use it — until that average night turned into a living nightmare.