The latest victim, Joseph Benzinger, 54, of Middle Village, was found strangled to death late Saturday night at the Crown Motor Inn in Elmhurst.
Queens middle school teacher David Rangel, 53, was discovered dead in his Jackson Heights apartment on Jan. 26. Two days later, Charles Romo, 48, was found tied up with a bag over his head in his apartment in Hamilton Heights, Manhattan.
“It’s frightening,” said openly gay City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights). “I fear that there could be somebody out there targeting gay men. People need to exercise extreme caution.”
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan), who is also openly gay, expressed her condolences to the families of the victims and urged the LGBT community to protect itself.
“The perpetrators must be apprehended and prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” she said in a statement.
The New York City Anti-Violence Project noted a 13% increase in violence against the city’s LGBT community, despite a 16% decrease nationwide, from 2010 to 2011. Deputy director Ejeris Dixon said she’s seen a recent increase in reports of “pick-up violence” — i.e. when people go home together after meeting for the first time online, through a hook-up app or in a bar.
“People feel that they need to hide the fact that they’re meeting someone online and that’s the problem,” she said. “Let people know who you are going to meet, where you are going to meet and meet in a public place.”
AVP offers a number of safety tips to avoid pick-up violence on its website. Anyone with information on the murders can call the NYPD Crime Stoppers hotline at 1-800-577-TIPS.