Mhelody Polan Bruno would never know the impact that her death would have on the LGBTQI and Filipino communities in NSW, bringing strangers together to mourn a young woman they had never met.
But the 25-year-old visiting Filipina woman became symbolic for many of the shocking levels of violence against transgender women and women of colour that still exist in Australia and around the world in 2019.
Mhelody died in hospital on September 22, one day after she was found unresponsive by paramedics in a home in Wagga Wagga, where some reports allege she had been choked and sexually assaulted.
Her case did not initially come to the attention of queer media as the police bulletin announcing the formation of Strike Force Lamson to investigate her death did not mention she was trans.
But when Filipino organisations Migrante Australia and Anakbayan Sydney organised a vigil in Newtown on October 7, with the assistance of Trans Action Warrang-Sydney, over a hundred people turned out to mourn her with only a few days notice.
Another thirty people attended a vigil in Wagga Wagga the same evening.
So far over eighty people have donated nearly $4,000 towards the cost of her funeral expenses, as there are still fears that her parents will have to cover the cost of transporting her body back to her home town in Surigao del Sur province in Mindanao after it arrived by plane in the Philippines this week.
The Philippines Consulate in Sydney would not respond to the Star Observer when directly questioned about this expense.
In the weeks following her death, more information has emerged about her life and what brought Ms Bruno to Australia.
Although she worked in a call centre in Manila where she was her family’s breadwinner, Mhelody was also a celebrated beauty queen who had won several pageants in the Philippines.
When a Facebook friend joked about her jumping off a building in April, she responded, “No … I love my life so will never do that.”
In an interview with SBS Radio Filipino, friends of Ms Bruno revealed that she had been in long distant relationships with two Australian men who may not have known about each other.
One of the men, “Andy,” had visited Bruno in the Philippines twice after they got chatting on a dating website and was liked by her friends and family.
Mhelody had been visiting “Andy” on her trip to Australia. He is not the person who has been charged over her death and is not a suspect.
The other man is believed to work for the navy and had not met her friends or her family.
According to Mhelody’s friends in the Philippines, she had been thinking about marrying this other man, although he appears to have only been a recent acquaintance.
Her friends believe that he is the person who was charged over her death, though they have little information about him, and this has not been confirmed by the police.
“She had her secrets. She didn’t tell us about him,” Mhelody’s best friend Dholley Garcia told SBS Filipino.
“I think maybe she didn’t want to tell anyone because she already had a boyfriend.”
A 31-year-old man has been charged over her death. Some have questioned why he was released on conditional bail and not kept in custody but he will appear in court in Wagga on November 7.
Hopefully that court appearance will provide more answers.
A memorial service was held for Mhelody at a funeral home in Greenacre last Monday, after which her body was transported to Sydney Airport for repatriation to the Philippines.
We hope that, by now, Mhelody has been returned to her loved-ones. Rest in power, Mhelody.