Watch: Trans Veteran Dies Saving Others During Mass Shooting

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday November 2, 2021
Originally published on November 2, 2021

When shots rang out at a mall in Boise, Idaho, transgender Army veteran Jo Acker ran toward the sound of gunfire to stop the perpetrator. In doing so, she gave her life — but may have saved many others, Colorado Springs news channel KKTV reported.

The Boise Police Department stated that Acker was shot by the gunman, a 27-year-old male, who was later shot during an exchange of gunfire with responding officers and died. Two people were killed in the mall shooting, and four others were injured, including a police officer, KKTV said.

The toll could have been much higher had Acker not taken action, reports said.

"Jo Acker had a heart of gold," news station KTVB reported. "That's how so many people have described the 26-year-old security guard who was shot and killed as she tried to stop the gunman."

"She was confronting the suspect," Acker's partner, Ray Dawn told local newspaper the Idaho Statesman. "I was told she was helping people and saving them," Dawn went on to add. "I know she would have wanted to make everyone else safe. She would have been the first one to go down to confront somebody."

Acker's family memorialized her courage on social media, with her sister, Shawna Lannigan, posting on Facebook: "Jo you were always kind and loving. You always had such an enormous heart of gold. I always felt like your keeper. I always wanted to protect you and you always wanted to protect others. You were and are and always will be a hero."

Those sentiments were echoed by Acker's father, Robert, who told KTVB that Jo was his "hero," and said Acker had sacrificed her life "so lots of people could go home that day."

Fellow Army veteran Kevin Goncalves, with whom Acker was stationed for two years in Italy, recalled Acker as "a caring person," the Idaho Statesman said.

"He recalled the way Acker would help new recruits, even if they weren't on the same team," the article detailed. "Goncalves said he would not be surprised to hear that Acker risked injury or worse at the mall to protect others."

"(Jo) always stuck up for people (when) others were being disrespected," the article quoted Goncalves as saying. "Always stood up for the right thing, even if it brought trouble. That was always something I admired about Jo."

The Human Rights Campaign, which tracks lethal violence targeting transgender and gender-nonconforming people, noted that "Acker's death is at least the 42nd violent killing of a transgender or gender non-conforming person in 2021."

Acker leaves behind a three-year-old daughter, KKTV said.

Watch the KTVB news clip below.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.