One year ago, Julio Ramirez, a vibrant, much-loved mental health counselor from Brooklyn, was spending an evening dancing at The Ritz Bar and Lounge in Hell’s Kitchen. This month, the suspects found to have drugged, robbed and left Ramirez for dead were named. On the anniversary of his death, W42ST reflects on the long road to seek justice for Julio Ramirez.
APRIL 20-21, 2022
Julio Ramirez spent an evening out at the popular gay bar, The Ritz. He is last seen leaving the club with three unidentified men early the morning of April 21. Friends and family become concerned after they text Ramirez and don’t hear back and his cell phone stops sharing location at 3:46am. Friends and family began reaching out to authorities to locate Ramirez, who is identified as deceased at Mount Sinai Beth Israel later that day. Ramirez had been discovered by police in the back of a cab on the Lower East Side.
While Ramirez’s death is initially classified as an accidental overdose, friends and family discover that the 25-year-old’s bank accounts have been drained, prompting suspicion that he was robbed. They began to post on social media and contacted W42ST about the incident, while urging investigators to reconsider Ramirez’s cause of death. We first reported the story on May 16.
On June 8, 2022, Tommy Greco, owner of Ritz Bar and Lounge where 25-year-old Julio Ramirez was last seen alive, broke his six-week silence at a press conference. Council member Erik Bottcher, who called the press event, introduced Greco as “a friend and local community leader.”
On the same day, Hell’s Kitchen residents, local leaders and community advocates attended a vigil for Julio — organized by local activist Catie Savage and Julio’s best friend Karanina Quimpo — urging investigators to push for answers in the Brooklyn man’s death. “What happened to Julio is a great shame. It’s a shame that nothing is being done about this, that we need to talk about this,” said Karinina at the rally. “I’m hoping that we’re able to find answers.” Activist and drag artist Marti Gould Cummings added: “We can no longer have our queer community not be safe. We have to protect one another — especially now with this sweet person’s life taken, as well as the rights of the queer community being rolled back. This is the time for us to band together as a community so we uplift Julio, his life and his family.”
As the three-month mark passes without answers, W42ST Publisher Phil O’Brien releases an op-ed urging investigators and local lawmakers to push forward in finding justice for Julio. “The family of Julio deserves answers,” writes O’Brien, “and we need to know that our neighborhood is safe.”
Ramirez’s family and friends commemorate what would have been his 26th birthday in an emotional tribute at a memorial garden. “We helped Julio’s family plant a commemorative garden around a tree that Julio planted himself in their front yard. During the family prayer, a white butterfly entered the garden and lingered a while, reminding us that Julio’s memory and legacy remains with us,” said Quimpo, who attended the ceremony, “It was a beautiful experience. We ended the day at Pinelawn Cemetery to pay our respects where Julio is buried. We talked about our favorite memories of him. On his birthday this year, we ask that anyone that knew Julio takes the time to think of him. As painful as it is to celebrate without him, we take great comfort in knowing how loved he was. He would have turned 26 years old. He was a young man with a full heart and he will never be forgotten.”
Still left without answers over their loved one’s death, Ramirez’s friends and family plan a memorial holiday fundraiser in honor of him. Days later, a death eerily similar to Ramirez’s makes the news. The mother of John Umberger, 33, comes forward to share that her son, a DC-based political consultant, was found dead just weeks after Julio Ramirez’s death, also after a night out in Hell’s Kitchen at The Q nightclub. Umberger’s mother shares that her son was drugged and his bank accounts had also been drained, suggesting that there is a pattern of targeted assaults occurring at Hell’s Kitchen nightclubs. “We have to get the word out that there are bad people out here and you cannot be alone,” said Linda Clary of her son’s death. “There’s a consistent theme — just like Julio found himself alone trying to reach his friend, John went to the Q and became vulnerable. It seems to be a recurring theme with these cases — people find themselves isolated and they become vulnerable prey. Never leave your friends alone.”
Shortly after the news of Umberger’s death emerges as a potentially connected case, dozens of individuals come forward with similar experiences of being drugged after a night out in Hell’s Kitchen. One clubgoer, Edward, told W42ST of his too-close call: “I may never fully know the truth about what happened to me, twice-fold — but I know in my gut that this is somehow connected and the more that people speak up the better. I learned the hard way but was lucky and somehow fought for my life — Julio and John never had that opportunity. Their family deserves answers and I pray that by sharing my experiences others will come forward and this information can help investigators track down this ring.” Local lawmakers renew communication warning bargoers to “be vigilant” when going out in Hell’s Kitchen.
W42ST sits down with Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg to reflect on his first year in office, in which the DA emphasizes a continued focus on solving Ramirez’s and Umberger’s cases. “It’s something that we are working on at the highest levels of my office, and we have had some charges announced,” the DA told W42ST. His office had recently pursued charges against a suspect in the murders of two Lower East Side clubgoers, although the accused were not thought to be connected to the Ramirez and Umberger cases. “We don’t want to bring charges prematurely,” said the DA. “We have an obligation to investigate and we want to be able to deliver accountability for the right people.”
After 11 months, the Office of the Medical Examiner (OCME) declares both Ramirez and Umberger’s deaths as homicides on March 3. The OCME confirms the two deaths as “drug-facilitated thefts” and declare that both Ramirez and Umberger were found to have been dosed with a combination of fentanyl, p-fluoro fentanyl, heroin, cocaine, lidocaine and ethanol. “NYPD’s Crimes Against Persons Unit, along with the Manhattan North and South Homicide Squads, are jointly working with our partners in the New York County District Attorney’s Office to investigate several incidents where individuals have been victims of either robberies or assault,” the NYPD told W42ST. “Some of the victims are members of the LGBTQIA+ community, however it is believed that not all of the victims are. It is also believed that the motivation for these assault/robberies is monetary gain.”On March 25, investigators announce that they have charged three suspects in connection with Ramirez and Umberger’s deaths.
Three suspects in the case are identified as 35-year-old Jayqwan Hamilton, 34-year-old Robert Demaio and 30-year-old Jacob Barroso — all of whom are believed to be a part of what officials call Robbery Pattern 188. The group is alleged to have drugged and robbed at least 17 clubgoers. Additional suspect Shane Hoskins is charged with two counts of grand larceny and one count of identity theft for allegedly drugging and stealing over $500 from two individuals in April 2022, as prosecutors linked Hoskins to the group of men responsible for the fatal overdoses of Ramirez and Umberger.
On April 18, DA Alvin Bragg, NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell and New York City Mayor Eric Adams announce that five total suspects had been arrested and charged in connection with the deaths of Ramirez and Umberger and at least 17 total incidents where victims were drugged and robbed. “Our entire city continues to mourn the tragic losses of Mr Ramirez and Mr Umberger,” said DA Bragg. “In addition to the pain their deaths have caused for their family and loved ones, I know many other New Yorkers have feared for their own safety when going out to meet up with friends. I am grateful to our professional and dedicated team for their hard work, along with the detectives at the NYPD who were outstanding partners throughout this entire investigation.”
One year after his death, Ramrirez’s friends and family are finally closer to the answers they sought for so long. Wrote Karinina Quimpo of Brayan Montes-Terrazas’ painted tribute to her best friend that has served as a symbolic beacon throughout the investigation: “Thank you, thank you, thank you to Brayan Montes-Terrazas for this artwork. Brayan didn’t know Julio personally, only heard of his story, and used his gift to help spread our message. Almost a year later, this piece is still a sign of hope. We are almost there.”