‘She was a friend to everybody’

Posted on 26 Oct 2012 at 12:00pm

Boyfriend Jonathan Stuart Kenney held in murder of trans woman Janette Tovar of Dallas, who was known for her vibrant personality

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Janette Tovar

ANNA WAUGH  |  Staff Writer

Friends, family members — and seemingly everyone who came into contact with Janette Tovar — will forever remember her vibrant personality and infectious smile.

Tovar died Oct. 15 after she and her boyfriend Jonathan Stuart Kenney fought. She was 43.

The Dallas County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled her death a homicide, with the cause of death listed as blunt force trauma to the head. Kenney was later arrested in connection with her murder. As of press time, Kenney remained in the Dallas County jail in lieu of a $500,000 bond.

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Jonathan Kenney

Kenney, 26, who police listed as Tovar’s life partner, allegedly committed murder Monday morning at 6:20 a.m. when he slammed Tovar’s head into the concrete in the 830 block of W. Davis Street. He then continued to assault her when they returned home at 918 W. Eighth Street.

Police responded to a 911 call after Kenney found her “not breathing and unresponsive” later that day and administered CPR. The apartment manager told police he heard the couple fighting that morning and said he often heard them fighting since he lives beneath their apartment.

Marisa Anguiano, Tovar’s cousin, said she and Tovar, a bar promoter, were inseparable for the last two decades, seeing each other at least twice a week for drinks, laughs and good times at The Grapevine Bar on Maple Avenue, one of Tovar’s favorite hangouts.

“She always had a smile on her face. She was always positive,” she said.

Anguiano said Tovar’s presence lit up any room she entered, adding while laughing that Tovar had a signature hair flip followed by the phrases “Hey, mama!” or “I got you, girl!”

Police reports initially listed Tovar by her legal name of Jesus instead of Janette.

Detective Laura Martin, DPD’s LGBT liaison, said police didn’t know she was transgender because the case was treated like any other homicide and listed only Tovar’s legal name.

Tovar came out as transgender about two decades ago, Anguiano said. She said Tovar’s large family was supportive of the beautiful and passionate woman she was.

“There was not a person in the family who didn’t love her and accept her for who she was,” she said. “She was like a mother, a sister, a confident to so many people.”

Tovar and Kenney had been dating for about a year and a half and moved in together a few months ago, Anguiano said. While Tovar had some troubled relationships in the past, Kenney was different, she said.

“They were so much in love. There was not a fault to be found,” she said. “They were the couple that everyone wanted to be.”

Although Kenney was known for becoming belligerent occasionally, Anguiano said there were never any signs of abuse until the Sunday evening before Tovar died. Kenney drank more than usual and the two fought at the Grapevine.

Tovar ended up leaving with friends but later took a cab home, telling friends if they didn’t hear from her that she was probably dead.

Anguiano said that side of the story is important because Tovar’s death was tragic and untimely. She said she wished she knew about the abuse before she lost her beloved cousin.

Tovar’s longtime friend Freddy Alvarado grew up with Tovar in East Dallas, meeting her at 16.

“We practically raised each other,” he said. “We helped each other come out.”

Alvarado moved to Florida a few years ago, but said he met Kenney during a visit in May. He said that while he’d heard rumors about abuse, the reality of it was hard to believe after seeing the couple together.

“He was like prince charming,” he said. “He was a gentleman.”

Alvarado said he hopes Tovar’s death brings awareness to abuse against the trans community and to domestic abuse.

“We don’t want this to be brushed under the rug,” he said. “People need to know that there’s still abuse out there no matter if you’re a man or a woman.”

Joe Cantu met Tovar when they were both teenagers. He said she was very social from the day they met, leading to many adventures in the decades they were friends.

Cantu was out of town when the news of Tovar’s death reached him, but he said he still can’t come to terms that she’s gone and still expects her to call him up for a laugh.

“She was just full of life,” Cantu said. “I remember her laughter, her willingness to help anyone out when she could, her warm personality and her giving nature. She loved people and everyone loved her.”

Wayne Akard is one of the many people who met Tovar at the Grapevine, meeting her about 13 years ago while working on the bar’s remodeling projects.

He said everyone who met her at the bar cared for her because of her kindness and humor. He said he would remember her going around the bar picking up glasses to help out just because she wanted to.

“She saw it needed to be done and she’d do it,” he said. “She was nice to everybody. She was a friend to everybody.”

Akard attended a candlelight vigil on Thursday, Oct. 18, at the bar in honor of Tovar. He said about 200 people showed up to pray and remember the woman that was so dear to them.

Tovar is survived by her parents, four brothers and a sister. A service for friends and family will be held in the future but had not yet been scheduled.

Tovar’s family created the Facebook page “In Loving Memory of Janette Tovar” as an outlet to share photos and memories.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 26, 2012.

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