The fatal shooting of a gay man just blocks from New York’s historic Stonewall Inn was a hate crime and could be linked to a rash of recent homophobic attacks, police said.
Before opening fire early Saturday, the gunman confronted the victim and his companion in Greenwich Village, yelling: “What are you, gay wrestlers?”. The suspect then asked if the pair “want to die here” before shooting victim Marc Carson in the face.
Carson, 32, was taken to hospital but died of his wounds. The gunman, identified as 33-year-old Elliot Morales, fled but was chased by officers and arrested.
The incident follows a series of recent hate attacks on gay men in New York, but this was the first deadly one. NYPD chief Ray Kelly said police were looking into possible links between Saturday morning’s killing and other incidents.
The shooting took place in Greenwich Village, a neighbourhoods long-associated with the gay-rights movement.
It took place just streets from the Stonewall Inn – the site of a celebrated 1969 riot by patrons being harassed by police due to their sexuality. That riot is seen as a key moment in the evolution of the modern gay-rights movement.
About 15 minutes before the shooting, the gunman in Saturday’s attack was seen urinating outside an upscale restaurant in Greenwich Village.
He went inside the restaurant and asked if someone was going to call the police about him. Morales told both the bartender and the manager: “If you do call the police, I’ll shoot you” and opened his sweatshirt to reveal a shoulder holster with a revolver. He also made anti-gay remarks, Kelly said at a press conference Saturday.
Minutes later, the gunman and two others approached Carson, who was with a companion. One of the three men yelled out: “What are you, gay wrestlers?” according to Kelly.
The two men stopped, turned and, according to Kelly, replied “What did you say?” before continuing walking.
“There were no words that would aggravate the situation spoken by the victims here,” the commissioner said. “This fully looks to be a hate crime, a bias crime.”
Witnesses saw Morlaes and another man approach the victim from behind while repeating anti-gay slurs.
Kelly said: “We believe that the perpetrator says to the victim, ‘Do you want to die here?’” before producing the revolver and firing one shot into Carson’s cheek.
The gunman ran off but was caught a few streets down by an officer who had heard a description of the assailant on his radio, Kelly said.
Authorities said they could not immediately identify Morales because he was carrying forged identification. But investigators learned his name after the forged ID was submitted to the department’s Facial Recognition Unit.
According to the New York Times, the suspect has previously served more than 10 years in jail for robbery.
The incident is the latest in a string of homophobic attacks in New York. Last week, also in Greenwich Village, a 35-year-old man was beaten up after leaving a bar. He told police the attacker used anti-gay slurs.
Meanwhile in May, a brace of separate incidents saw two couples in midtown Manhattan beaten up by groups of men in attacks in what is thought to have been anti-gay attacks.
Responding to the latest incident, Christine Quinn, the New York City Council speaker who is bidding to be the city’s first gay mayor, said that the city had moved on from the timw when same-sex couples could not walk down the street arm-in-arm without fear of harassment.
“We refuse to go back to that time,” she said, adding: “This kind of shocking and senseless violence, so deeply rooted in hate, has no place in a city whose greatest strength will always be its diversity.”
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