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Hell’s Kitchen’s gay community was warned to be “extra vigilant” Thursday night in a new flyer distributed after the suspected drugging deaths of Julio Ramirez and John Umberger and at least a dozen similar incidents. The flyer was handed out at bars and clubs by council member Erik Bottcher and a group of volunteers as police investigate the two deaths and other similar attacks targeting gay men at popular LGBTQIA+ venues. It warns bargoers not to leave their drink unattended.
Volunteers helped hand out the flyers at venues including Flaming Saddles and RISE, the first bar Julio visited on his fatal night out in April. The 25-year-old social worker was last seen alive leaving The Ritz on Restaurant Row with three men in a taxi. He was found in the Lower East Side with no wallet or phone, and died in hospital shortly after, with an initial toxicology examination finding drugs in his system. After his death, $20,000 was taken from his accounts and credit cards.
This month Umberger’s mother revealed how her 33-year-old son had died in similar circumstances, being found dead at an Upper East Side apartment two days after leaving The Q nightclub on May 28, with initial toxicology results showing high levels of the deadly opioid fentanyl and anesthetic lidocaine in his system. He had been robbed and $25,000 drained from his bank accounts.
Since the revelation of Umberger’s death, police appear to have stepped up their investigation, with his death and that of and Julio being officially linked by District Attorney Alvin Bragg, and a homicide and grand larceny task force investigating the spate of crimes.
The new flyers are far more explicit about the danger of drugging than previous ones handed out after Julio’s death. The flyers also warn about the danger of fentanyl, urging the use of safety strips to detect its presence in other drugs, and to carry the anti-overdose treatment NARCAN. Bottcher said: “We want people to go out. We want people to have a great time. But we want people to have the tips that they need to be safe.”
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The council member said he had spoken to both the DA’s office and the NYPD on Thursday and told the New York Post: “I’m hopeful that the investigation will be successful in the near future. But in the meantime, we want to get things out there spreading the word making sure people have heard.” Bottcher was joined in the leafleting effort by community affairs officer Det. Anthony Bellantoni from Midtown North Precinct, and other neighborhood coordination officers. Bottcher and volunteers later headed for queer-friendly venues in Chelsea.
Among the volunteers distributing flyers was Hell’s Kitchen resident Alex Fortmeyer, who responded to a call for volunteers on Bottcher’s Instagram and told W42ST: “I’m brand new to the neighborhood — I’ve only been here a few weeks — but I’ve already got a set of friends who live in Hell’s Kitchen and we enjoy going out, whether for a happy hour drink or later in the evening. For my safety, my friends’ safety, the community’s safety, I thought that giving some advice about what’s going on couldn’t hurt. If it keeps me safe, keeps my friends safe, then I’m all for it.”
After the revelation this month of Umbergers’s death, the father of a 21-year-old NYU student told the New York Post that his son had been targeted on a night out at The Q, and robbed of $15,000 after inviting three men he met there to his West Village apartment for beers with him and his female friend. “They are like con men,” the father said. “They’ve been preying on the gay community, and they pretend to be gay themselves . It’s definitely very well planned and executed.”
And this week another man told W42ST he believed he had been targeted twice by “roofie” attackers, but escaped being robbed. Edward said he had been bought a drink by a man at DBL’s outdoor space in April 2021, left it with the man to use the restroom, then went alone to RISE and ordered a margarita. After that he remembered nothing and woke in his apartment the next day with a seven-inch gash on his leg.
Then in August 2022, he left his drink unattended in Boxers to sing karaoke, and again woke the next morning unable to remember what had happened. Edward told W42ST: “I just want to bring justice to the person or persons responsible for Julio Ramirez’s and John Umberger’s deaths, and to bring more awareness about the dangers of going out alone as a gay man or just anyone.I learned the hard way but was lucky and somehow fought for my life — Julio and John never had that opportunity.”
If you have been the victim of a similar situation in a Hell’s Kitchen bar, please email us in confidence at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the Crime Stoppers tip line at 800-577-TIPS