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Friends Suspect Hate Crime in Virginia Gay Man's Death

Jose Escobar-Menendez

They also say the killer of Jose I. Escobar Menendez could be someone he met on a dating app.

Friends of a gay man shot to death last week in Virginia say they believe he was the victim of a hate crime and that his killer may be someone he met on a dating app.

The body of Jose I. Escobar Menendez, 24, was found on a road in the northern Virginia town of Sterling about 3:30 a.m. July 8, the Loudoun Times-Mirror reports. The Loudoun County Sheriff's Office ruled his death a homicide and initially declined to state the cause of death, but a spokeswoman told the Washington Blade this week that it was a gunshot wound. Menendez lived in Winchester, about 50 miles from Sterling.

"We know it was a homicide, but no one has any idea what his whereabouts were that night or with whom," a female friend of Menendez's tweeted, according to the Times-Mirror; the tweet is now unavailable. "He was murdered & we believe it was due to his sexuality. ... We think he met up with someone off of a dating app." The woman, who was not identified by name, also spoke to the paper, saying Menendez's body was in "very bad shape."

She shared memories of him as well. "He was an amazing friend," she told the Times-Mirror. "He was so sweet -- always happy and cheerful. ... He was always that person to hype you up. He just wanted everyone to have a good time."

When the Blade asked whether Menendez's death may have been a hate crime, Loudoun County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Michele Bowman said only, "This case is still under active investigation and we continue to explore all avenues." She declined to say if a suspect had been identified.

Menendez's cousin Ricky Alvarenga, who set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for funeral expenses, also said there are unanswered questions. "We still need answers and we will find JUSTICE FOR JOSE," he wrote on the page.

The Sheriff's Office asked that anyone with information about the case call Det. M. Grimsley at (703) 777-1021.

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