Hundreds gathered in Times Square Wednesday night, holding signs and using their voices to call attention to the mysterious death of Julio Ramirez, a beloved social worker who was found dead in a taxi cab more than a month ago after a night out.
Demonstrators started with a candlelight vigil and moment of silence outside the Ritz Bar and Lounge on West 46th Street in Hell's Kitchen. That was the last place Ramirez was seen alive back in April.
"We need to speak up and we need to look out for each other, and that’s something Hell’s Kitchen has done my entire life," said demonstrator Chris LeBron.
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The 25-year-old Ramirez met up with a friend on April 20 for a night out in the Manhattan neighborhood. After night of bar hopping, their last stop was the Ritz, a popular, multilevel gay venue in the heart of the neighborhood’s Restaurant Row.
The two eventually went their separate ways. Surveillance footage from a nearby security camera showed Ramirez walking away from the venue with three unidentified men at 3:17 a.m., according to his brother, Carlos.
The four men then entered a nearby taxi, a police source said, but Ramirez was alone in the backseat at 4:10 a.m. when the taxi driver approached a police officer 3 miles away in the Lower East Side to say his passenger was unresponsive.
Less than an hour later, Ramirez was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.
How he died is unclear — the medical examiner’s office says a preliminary toxicology screening found nothing of immediate significance but noted more testing was required.
Ramirez was initially identified as “John Doe,” his brother said, because neither his wallet nor phone was with him when he died.
The family told NBC New York that the unknown men from the cab took Ramirez's phone, changed his password and then stole $20,000 from his bank account.
"Julio was somebody that was very loved. I think that this whole thing is suspicious. And I do hope that we get answers soon," said friend Karinina Quimpo. "To get into a cab with a bunch of strangers, to just give away his phone potentially give away his belongings, it’s just not like him."
Those at Wednesday's rally fear he was targeted at a gay bar for reasons that are disturbingly mysterious. They worry about the possibility he was victimized because he was gay.
"It's very heartbreaking," said Sam Carnicelli. "It wasn’t some random act. And I fear that there will be future targets."
Given that it is Pride Month, demonstrators want the city to be on alert and make sure the kind of nightlife danger that befell Ramirez doesn’t happen again. Police said they are still investigating, but there were no new leads in who the mystery men were in the taxi cab.
Anyone with information about this incident is asked to call the NYPD’s Crime Stoppers Hotline at 1-800-577-TIPS (8477) or for Spanish, 1-888-57-PISTA (74782).