Manhattan Councilman Erik Bottcher is urging the LGBTQ community to be “extra vigilant” when going out for a night on the town after the suspicious deaths of two gay men in Hell’s Kitchen.
Bottcher gathered with volunteers in the popular nightlife neighborhood Thursday night to hand out fliers with safety tips and raise awareness that one or more people may be targeting, drugging and robbing gay men in the area.
The council member — a gay man himself who has spent much of his career in public service advocating for and supporting the LBGTQ community — urged bargoers to be on high alert after two men, 25-year-old Julio Ramirez and 35-year-old John Umberger, were both found dead in separate incidents after a night out at New York City gay bars.
“We demand justice for the deaths of Julio Ramirez and John Umberger,” Bottcher said as he handed out fliers at the corner of 9th Avenue and 49th Street. “We will not be cowed. We will not be intimidated. We will not stay home. But we want there to be ongoing campaign of awareness.”
Bottcher and a team of volunteers planned to drop the fliers in bars throughout Hell’s Kitchen, Chelsea and the West Village.
“We want people to be extra vigilant right now while the investigation is underway,” he said.
Bottcher said he spoke to both the Manhattan District Attorney’s office and the NYPD Thursday night and was assured that they each have a full team investigating the deaths.
“So I’m hopeful that the investigation will be successful in the near future,” he said. “But in the meantime, we want to get things out there spreading the word making sure people have heard.”
Ramirez died in the back of a cab in the early hours of April 21 and Umberger, of Washington, DC, was discovered dead on June 1 in the Upper East Side apartment where he was staying.
Both Ramirez and Umberger died of an overdose, were robbed of their phones and wallets and had their bank accounts completely drained. About $20,000 was stolen from Ramirez’s bank accounts and credit cards and $25,000 has been transferred out of Umberger’s accounts through cash apps like Venmo and Paypal.
Police believed the victims were drugged with roofies, known as the “date-rape drug.”
Investigators believe both men went to the Eighth Avenue gay nightclub, The Q NYC, where they were each targeted by a group of three men before they wound up dead the next morning.
Police believe at least a dozen non-fatal cases in which victims were drugged and robbed are related. The NYPD has formed a grand larceny task force to investigate the crimes in which well-dressed victims were targeted by three men at gay bars, drugged, and robbed of tens of thousands of dollars, after their bank accounts were emptied and credit cards maxed out.
Bottcher said he wants people to have the information they need to remain safe — with the number one tip being to share one’s location with others when going out.
“The first tip to me is one of the most important, which is always share your location with someone you know and tell them who you’re with,” he said. “So if you’re leaving with someone, you know, just let people know — someone know — where you’re going, who you’re going with.”
Other tips on the fliers, compiled by the NYC Office of Nightlife, include to never leave drinks unattended or accept drinks from strangers, use fentanyl test strips to check for the presence of the deadly drug in other drugs, have a travel pan to get home safe and never leave with a stranger without telling a friend.
Bottcher wants to spread awareness of the potential dangers as well as the safety tips across all five boroughs.
“We want this to happen all over the city. So we’re working with the Office of Nightlife to push this out far and wide.“