SOUTH ORANGE, NJ – Authorities have identified the victim in Friday morning’s fatal house fire as a notable LGBTQ activist.
Cecilia Cranko, 48, died in the fire that burned down the single-family home she lived in on Ward Place, Essex County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Thomas Fennelly said in a news release Friday night.
Firefighters found Cranko unresponsive on the third floor of the home shortly after 2:30 a.m., Fennelly said. Cranko was pronounced dead at the scene, Fennelly said.
Cranko was an LGBTQ activist in the community and an alternate member of the South Orange Zoning Board of Adjustment.
Cranko has participated in local events in support of the LGBTQ and transgender communities including an event at Maplewood Town Hall in March for Transgender Visibility Week.
At the March event in Maplewood Cranko had expressed hope that more of society embrace members of the community who are not heterosexual.
“Today’s younger generations get it and they should,” Cranko said then. “And it’s us, the older generations that need to play catch up.”
In 2016, Cranko had been scheduled to speak at an LGBTQ Pride Shabbat held at a local synagogue. The announcement from Oheb Shalom provided a biography of Cranko describing her as a transgender woman with two boys and an architect with over 15 years of experience.
In 2017, Cranko told WABC-TV that a man broke into her home on Ward Place and beat her violently before running out the door.
"He just ran for me," she then told the TV station "I tried to get upstairs to my room, to lock the door, but he caught me before that, and he just attacked me. He tried to pull my clothes off, and I screamed and kicked.”
The Essex County Prosecutor's Office Crime Scene Investigations Bureau is investigating both the origin and cause of the fire, Fennelly said.
Anyone with information should call the Prosecutor's Tips Line at 1-877-847-7432.