ONTD Political

Two Queens men and one Manhattan man found dead; police say cases do not appear to be linked but two of them may have met their attackers online

The recent strangulation deaths of three middle-aged gay men in Queens and Manhattan has the city’s gay community on edge, though authorities say they do not appear to be linked.

Elected officials urged the community on Tuesday to take precautions when meeting someone for the first time as police said two of the victims may have met their attackers online.

“It’s frightening,” said City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), who is openly gay. “I fear that there could be somebody out there targeting gay men.”

“People need to exercise extreme caution,” Dromm said.

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.

Violence in the city’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community jumped 13% from 2010 to 2011, despite a national 16% drop during the same time, according to a national report produced by the New York City Anti-Violence Project.

Ejeris Dixon, a deputy director of the group, said she’s seen a recent increase in reported cases of pick-up violence — a term used for when people go home together after meeting for the first time online 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.”

Her group is having a session at 8 p.m. Wednesday on safe online pick-ups at Make the Road New York in Jackson Heights.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan), who is also openly gay, expressed her condolences to the families of the victims and urged the gay community to protect itself.

“The perpetrators must be apprehended and prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” she said in a statement.

Anyone with information on the murders can call the NYPD Crime Stoppers hotline at 1-800-577-TIPS.

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