In the wake of three murders of middle-aged gay men in separate incidents just two weeks apart, elected officials and anti-violence advocates are warning the community about the dangers of online hook-ups.
David Rangel, 53, was found dead under the couch in his Jackson Heights, Queens, apartment on January 26, apparently the victim of choking. Two days later, the body of Charles Romo, 48, was found in his Hamilton Heights apartment in Upper Manhattan by his housekeeper. He had been tied up and a bag was placed over his head. On February 9, police found Joseph Benzinger, 54, also the apparent victim of strangulation, in a room at the Crown Motor Inn on Queens Boulevard in Elmhurst.
In each case, there were no signs of forced entry.
"These recent tragic incidents show us that this is the time for our community to join together to recognize that we not only deserve safety but that we can create it,” said Ejeris Dixon, the deputy director of the New York City Anti-Violence Project, at a February 12 press conference in front of the Queens Boulevard hotel. “We urge our community to call our hotline, use our safety tips, and attend our upcoming event ‘Real Talks! Staying Safe with Online Pick Ups’ ( to educate themselves on staying safe and getting support from violence. "
The "Real Talks!" takes place on February 13 at 8 p.m. at the Jackson Heights office of Make the Road New York, 9210 Roosevelt Avenue. More information is at tinyurl.com/cxmsbnr.
City Councilman Daniel Dromm, an out gay Queens Democrat whose district includes the sites of two of the three murders, said, “It is an eerie coincidence that both of these murders took place within a week of each other and involved gay men.” He urged LGBT people to be cautious when meeting others for the first time. “Go to your favorite café and make sure the waiter sees who you are with,” he said. ”If you meet someone in a bar, let the bartender know who the person is.”
A statement from City Council Speaker Christine Quinn urged anyone with information about the murders to contact the NYPD's Crime Stoppers hotline at 800-577-TIPS.