NEW YORK – Members of a street gang who discovered one of their teenage recruits was gay brutally beat and tortured him and two other people in gruesome assaults, police said. The attack came amid heightened attention nationwide to anti-gay bullying after a string of suicides attributed to it last month.
Seven of the suspects in the attacks were arrested and being held pending arraignment on charges of robbery, sodomy, menacing and assault as hate crimes. Two others were being sought.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said the first of the four assaults in the most recent case occurred at about 3:30 a.m. Sunday.
The first victim, a 17-year-old potential recruit for the Latin King Goonies street gang, was grabbed by gang members and taken to an empty Bronx apartment they used for parties and sex, police said. The teen was stripped, beaten and sodomized with a wooden plunger handle, police said.
The attackers, apparently angry he was gay, yelled anti-gay insults and questioned him about his contact with a 30-year-old man, police said.
The teen was eventually released and instructed not to tell anyone. He walked to a hospital where he was treated, but he reported that his injuries were from a robbery.
Using information gleaned from their interrogation of the recruit, the attackers then descended on another 17-year-old also thought to have had a relationship with the 30-year-old, police said. Both were lured to the same apartment.
The second teen was assaulted at about 8:30 p.m. Sunday, police said. The 30-year-old arrived about an hour later with malt liquor, thinking he was going to a party. He was stripped to his underwear and tied to a chair opposite the other teen, who was forced by the angry mob to burn the man with cigarettes, police said. They beat the 30-year-old, forced him to drink copious amounts of the malt liquor he brought and sodomized him with a small baseball bat, police said.
"These suspects employed terrible wolf-pack odds of nine-against-one, odds which revealed them as predators whose crimes were as cowardly as they were despicable," Kelly said Friday.
During the attack, some of the assailants went to the 30-year-old's home, where they attacked his older brother and robbed him of $1,000, a 52-inch TV and two debit cards, police said.
The victims were eventually freed, hospitalized and treated.
The assailants scrubbed the scene top-to-bottom with bleach, even repainting the walls to make it look new, police said.
"They could clean, but they couldn't hide," Kelly said.
Investigators said they found alcohol cans and hair at the scene. And an onlooker slipped a phone number to detectives, leading them to the primary suspect. The victims, initially reluctant, also started to divulge more details about the assaults, Kelly said. The Hate Crimes Task Force took over the investigation, along with Bronx robbery and gang division and special victims squad, and arrested the seven men.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the city's highest-ranking openly gay official, called the attacks "vile" and "horrifying."
"These attacks are appalling and are even more despicable because the victims were clearly targeted in acts of hate simply because they are gay," Quinn said. "The cowardly few who committed these crimes do not represent New Yorkers, and our community will not be cowed by such violence."
A weekend rally on anti-gay bias was planned following other crimes against gays.
On Sunday, a patron at the Stonewall Inn, a symbol of the gay rights movement since protests over a 1969 police raid there, was beaten in an anti-gay bias attack, according to prosecutors. Two suspects in the case were charged. Their attorneys say they're not guilty.
That attack followed the Sept. 22 death of New Jersey college student Tyler Clementi, who jumped off the George Washington Bridge after his sexual encounter with a man in his dorm room was secretly streamed online. The student's roommate and another freshman have been charged with invasion of privacy. Authorities are considering bias-crime charges.
The attacks remain all too common, and there is still a stigma to being a lesbian, gay, bisexual or trangendered person, said Sharon Stapel, executive director of the New York City Anti-Violence Project, which works to combat attacks on gays and others. That stigma leads to such attacks and to young people feeling their only alternative is suicide.
"We have to stop thinking that it's OK to bully LGBT people or make fun of LGBT people," Stapel said.
"What we see now is the link between casual sort of comments and the real and horrific violence that results because those comments contribute to an entire culture of violence," she said.