Online dating may be the common thread among four murders that have spurred community activists and the New York City Council to issue an alert. It targets all New Yorkers, but focuses on one particular at-risk group.
All four victims were gay men, in their late forties or fifties, and most, if not all of them, may have met their attackers online.
“For everyone who has never experienced online violence, people are frightened,” said Ejeris Dixon, deputy director of the Anti-Violence Project about the severity of the situation. “For people who have [experienced online violence], it’s a triggering experience.”
Her organization has seen thousands of cases of violence against gay victims over its 30-year history, but the latest string of killings stands out even for veteran advocates for violence prevention.
The most recent murder of a gay man took place at the Crown Motel on Sunday, a business on Queens Boulevard in Elmhurst that rents rooms in four-hour blocks at a time. Cleaning staff found the body of Joseph Benzinger in the room he’d rented the night before.
“[He was a] very good guy,” motel desk clerk Mariela Ortiz said. “He was a regular customer here. …Very quiet. Normal. He would say, ‘Hi, how are you, how’s your day.'” His was the latest in a string of homicides that are sounding an alarm.
The weekend before his murder, David Rangle, 53, was found dead in his apartment in Jackson Heights, Queens, less than a mile away from where Benzinger was murdered. Less than a week before that, on January 28th, Charles Romo, 48, was murdered at his apartment in Hamilton Heights, Harlem. Detectives believe he allowed two men he knew into his apartment, who robbed and killed him.
It is quite possible that all three victims met the people who would become their killers online. It’s also why City Councilmember Daniel Dromm, an openly gay legislator who represents Central Queens, held a news conference Tuesday to warn people interested in hooking up online.
“They need to exercise extreme caution while dating,” Dromm said at the news conference. He also mentioned the murder of Queens gay activist Lou Rispoli. Two suspects have been on the loose since Rispoli’s late October killing.
It’s not clear what if any connection there is among all of the murders. However, leaders and activists in the community feel that the homicides are cause for a warning to online daters to be cautious before killers can strike again.
“Let people know, ‘I’m going to be hooking up online tonight,'” Anti-Violence Project Deputy Director Ejeris Dixon said, as a word of advice. “[Ask them] can you call me in a couple of hours?’ and it’s that simple.”
The Anti-Violence Project website http://www.avp.org has an array of information people can use to fight violence and to report the perpetrators of violence.
Meanwhile NYPD detectives confirmed to PIX11 News that they are poring over video surveillance in search of suspects in the most recent homicides of gay men. They have not chosen to release the video.