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From left: suspects Joshua M. Hunter, Gavin C. Collins, and Handy N. Colindrez
Two suspects have been charged with first-degree murder and a third with auto theft in connection with the death of Virginia gay man Jose I. Escobar Menendez.
Menendez, 24, was found shot to death on a road in the northern Virginia town of Sterling about 3:30 a.m. July 8. He lived in Winchester, about 50 miles away.
The Loudoun County Sheriff's Office announced Wednesday that its officers had arrested Gavin C. Collins, 21, and Joshua M. Hunter, 22, the Washington Blade reports. Both are charged with first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit robbery, and two counts of using a firearm while committing a felony. Collins also faces narcotics charges.
The third suspect, Handy N. Colindrez, 24, is charged with grand larceny, involving auto theft.
"During the early morning hours of July 6, the victim agreed to meet Collins in the area of Emerald Point Terrace," the sheriff's office said in a statement announcing the arrests. "During the course of their encounter a dispute occurred and the victim was shot and killed when Collins and Hunter attempted to rob him. Both Collins and Hunter then left the area, taking the victim's car."
The car, a 2019 Nissan Sentra, was found in a neighboring county, Prince William.
Sheriff's personnel did not say how Colindrez was connected to the other suspects, but an arrest warrant suggests they may have bought the car from them, the Blade reports.
A sheriff's office spokeswoman said Menendez and Collins had met online, but she declined to provide further details. A friend of Menendez had said she thought he had met his killer on a dating app, and she also suspected his death was an antigay hate crime.
However, the sheriff's office has not yet characterized the killing as a hate crime. "This remains an active investigation and additional charges are possible," the statement said. "All three suspects are being held at the Loudoun County Adult Detention Center without bond."
The Loudoun County Commonwealth's Attorney's Office, which will handle the prosecution, declined comment on the possibility of a hate crime or any other aspect of the case.
Virginia added sexual orientation and gender identity to its hate crimes law this year, and if Menendez's killing is prosecuted as a hate crime, it would be one of the first cases involving the expanded law.
The sheriff's office asks that anyone with information about the case call Det. M. Grimsley at (703) 777-1021.