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Story highlights

Kayden Clarke was a transgender man fatally shot by Mesa, Arizona, police

Police said they didn't know he had Asperger's syndrome

Officers shot after he lunged at them with a knife, police said

(CNN) —  

The man shot to death by police in Mesa, Arizona, struggled with more than Asperger’s syndrome.

Kayden Clarke was transitioning from female to male, he said in a YouTube video, but faced obstacles because of Asperger’s, a high-functioning variant of autism.

One doctor refused to prescribe testosterone until his Asperger’s was cured, he said on a video. “You can’t cure neurological disorders!” he railed.

Clarke also said he had other mental problems, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and cognitive disorders. He said he’d attempted suicide, including “suicide by cop.”

Clarke was shot to death Thursday when Mesa police answered a call about a suicidal woman, Detective Estaban Flores said at a Friday news briefing. Two officers were talking to the person through an open door in a hallway when that person emerged and lunged at the officers with a large kitchen knife, he said.

“At that point they felt their lives were threatened,” Flores said. Both officers fired their weapons, he said.

Police identified the person shot to death as Danielle Jacobs, 24.

That was Clarke’s legal name, the Arizona Republic reported, but friends knew him as Kayden Clarke. Kayden Clarke was the name under which he created the YouTube channel about the problems of being transgender.

CNN generally uses the name and pronoun preferred by transgender individuals, regardless of their gender at birth.

Police said they didn’t know they were dealing with a person with Asperger’s or any mental problems, Flores said. He didn’t mention the person was transgender

CNN was unaware Clarke was transgender on Friday when another article was published about the killing.

’My daughter died asking for help’

Clarke’s mother, Stacia, told CNN affiliate KPHO that police overreacted. She said nobody was in danger from her child, whom she referred to using the feminine.

“My daughter died for asking for help,” she said Friday. “She was in her own place. And regardless of what she was thinking, what she was doing, she wasn’t posing a danger to the community. There has to be better way for law enforcement to respond and handle situations.”

Clarke was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome in 2013, reported KPHO.

People with Asperger’s are often exceptionally intelligent and verbally gifted, but they also can be socially awkward.

They may react to stress differently and at times more emotionally than others not on the autism spectrum.

A life shared on social media

Like many people his age, Clarke shared life through social media.

He posted YouTube videos under the name Danielle Jacobs about the problems of having Asperger’s syndrome.

Last June, one video showed a breakdown in which Clarke wept, berated himself and punched his chest as Samson, his service Rottweiler, jumped up to block the blows. Finally, he slumped to the floor and embraced the dog.

In one YouTube video he described “stimming” – self-stimulating behavior such as patting the chest. He read text from a cellphone and explained the odd, repetitive motions.

“I’m trying to calm myself from being overwhelmed,” he said.

In another video he sobs and says he’s distraught about learning vocational education workers wouldn’t continue to support his quest for a college education.

“They kept leading me on and leading me on,” he said.

Police didn’t know ‘her mental and cognitive abilities’

Clarke and police had one previous interaction, Flores said – a call in which he complained about Internet harassment.

“Other than that we had no indication of who she was or what her mental and cognitive abilities were at that time,” Flores said.

After receiving the call Thursday, officers went to the house and were let inside by one of Clarke’s friends, Flores said.

While the two officers – one with training in crisis intervention – talked to Clarke, a third went to his police vehicle to obtain a “less than lethal” device, such as a bean-bag shotgun, Flores said.

Before that officer returned, Clarke came out of the door with a knife with an 8-inch blade, he said.

They told him to drop the weapon but Clarke “lunged extending the knife toward the officers from a very close distance,” he said.

No body cameras

Neither officer wore body cameras, he said. Both had stun guns but those devices “sometimes become ineffective when someone starts moving a lot,” he said.

Flores said the Mesa department had already increased the number of officers with training in crisis intervention.

“Officers receive enhanced training, focusing on how to identify and assist in situations involving individuals suffering from mental illness and cognitive disabilities,” he said.

The officers were placed on administrative leave.

“At this time we express our sympathies to Danielle’s family and her friend’s,” Flores said. “Obviously they’re going through a tough time right now – it’s tough losing somebody like this.”