LGBT activist dies in S.O. fire

Housefire on Ward Place results in resident's death, ECPO investigates

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SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — Cecilia Cranko, a well-known local LGBT activist, died in a fire at her home, 231 Ward Place in South Orange, on Friday, July 5. In the wake of this tragedy, the community has come together to remember Cranko and support her family.

At approximately 2:39 a.m., units from the South Orange Fire Department were dispatched to the reported fire, according to a press release from Essex County Prosecutor Theodore Stephens II, South Orange Fire Chief Daniel Sullivan and South Orange Police Chief Kyle Kroll. Arriving firefighters observed an active fire and, as they entered the structure, they located Cranko on the third floor of the single-family residence. Cranko, 48, was pronounced dead at the scene. According to Essex County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Thomas S. Fennelly of the Prosecutor’s Homicide Unit, no one else was injured in the fire.

The fire was ultimately extinguished, with South Orange firefighters receiving mutual aid from neighboring towns, including Maplewood.

This incident is being investigated by the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office Crime Scene Investigations Bureau. The origin and cause of the fire remains under investigation, according to Fennelly. Anyone with information is asked to call the Prosecutor’s Tips Line at 877-847-7432.

Cranko’s death stunned many in the community who remember her outspoken and caring nature. A former U.S. Marine, she was an architect and alternate member of the South Orange Zoning Board of Adjustment. In recent years, Cranko, a transgender woman, had been very active in LGBT advocacy, participating in events throughout South Orange and northern New Jersey. 

In just two days time, as of press time on July 9, the community had raised nearly $9,000 via a GoFundMe page to help pay for funeral expenses and travel expenses, as Cranko’s mother has had to fly in from South Africa.

Village President Sheena Collum was a close personal friend of Cranko and said she will always remember her genuineness and sense of humor.

“She was a beautiful woman who was willing to share openly and honestly about her challenges during her transition. She became a prominent figure in the LGBTQ community as an activist. She was an authentic human being who cared tremendously about marginalized groups. Beyond her advocacy, she was an incredibly talented architect, a member of our Zoning Board of Adjustment and had an amazing personality. Sometimes her jokes were so hilarious, it would bring me to tears,” Collum told the News-Record on July 9. “Cecilia had two boys who she could never stop bragging about. She was so proud of them and loved them unconditionally. Along with all her amazing attributes, the most significant one was as a loving parent.”

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