Officials urged the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community to use extreme caution when dating online, following a string of three murders in the last two weeks they say could be linked to these meetups.
Middle Village resident Joseph Benzinger, 54, was discovered in the Crown Motor Inn by motel staff on Feb. 10.
That is the third murder of a gay man in the city during the last two weeks, two of which were committed in the distict represented by Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights). As of now officials say there is no link between the incidents, but they are leery.
“It is an eerie coincidence that both of these murders took place within a week of each other and involved gay men,” Dromm, who is openly gay, said on Tuesday outside the Crown Motor Inn on Queens Boulevard.
New York City Anti-Violence Project Deputy Director Ejeris Dixon says the organization has seen a trend of violence toward gay men, especially when meeting up with people they met virtually.
“Many individuals who have called the hotline have reported increased violence from dating online,” Dixon said.
Dixon said there’s a stigma that comes with using meetup websites, but instead of hiding dates from friends, she advised to introducing them. She also urged people to meet in a public place at first.
“People think they need to hide meeting online, but people need to speak out,” Dixon said. “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.”
Violence towards the city’s LGBT community rose by 13 percent between 2010 and 2011, although nationally it dropped 16 percent during the same time period, according to NYC Anti-Violence Project statistics.
On Feb. 3, public school teacher David Rangel, 53, was found strangled under his couch in Jackson Heights.
A few days before, on Jan. 28, Charles Romo, 48, of Hamilton Heights, a neighborhood in northwest Manhattan, was found dead in his apartment with a bag over his head.
The two Queens men were both strangled. All three were middle-aged, openly gay men. None of their apartments or rooms showed signs of a break in.
Police have surveillance footage of both Queens incidents, Dromm said, adding that some items were stolen from the two men.
Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan), who is openly gay, asked residents in a release following the meeting to protect themeselves from such incidents.
“The perpetrators must be apprehended and prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” she said.
Individuals can report information to NYPD’s Crime Stoppers hotline at 1 (800) 577-TIPS (8477).