A gunman used homophobic slurs before firing a fatal shot point-blank into a man’s face on a Manhattan street alive with a weekend midnight crowd, in a neighborhood long known as a bedrock of the gay rights movement. New York’s police commissioner called the killing a hate crime.
Before opening fire early on Saturday, the gunman confronted the victim and his companion in Greenwich Village and asked if they “want to die here,” New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.
The violence follows a series of recent bias attacks on gay men in New York, but this was the first deadly one. Kelly said police were looking into possible links between the incidents.
The shooting stunned a city where, in many neighborhoods, same-sex couples walk freely holding hands. It also comes at a time when the gay marriage movement is gaining momentum in many parts of the US. Twelve states have legalized same-sex marriage, including New York in 2011.
Christine Quinn, the New York City Council speaker who is bidding to be the city’s first gay mayor, said there was a time in New York when hate crimes were a common occurrence.
“We refuse to go back to that time,” said Quinn, who represents Greenwich Village in the city council.
About 15 minutes before the bloodshed, Kelly said the gunman was seen urinating outside an upscale restaurant a few blocks from the Stonewall Inn, the site of 1969 riots that helped give rise to the modern gay rights movement.
The gunman went inside the restaurant and asked if someone was going to call the police about him. Police said the gunman, identified later as 33-year-old Elliot Morales, told both the bartender and the manager, “if you do call the police, I’ll shoot you” and revealed a shoulder holster with a revolver, Kelly said.
Out on the street minutes later, the gunman and two others approached the 32-year-old victim, identified by police as Harlem resident Marc Carson, and 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, said to the group taunting them, “What did you say?,” then kept walking.
Two of the men kept following the victim and his companion, Kelly said, while repeating anti-gay slurs.
The gunman asked the men if they were together and when he got an affirmative answer, Kelly said, “we believe that the perpetrator says to the victim, ‘Do you want to die here?’”
That is when suspect produced the revolver and fired one shot into Carson’s cheek, Kelly said.
The gunman fled but was caught a few streets down by a police officer who had heard a description on his radio, spotted him and ordered him to stop, Kelly said.
Police found the mortally wounded victim on the pavement. He was pronounced dead at a hospital.