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Gay Men Say They Feel Lucky To Be Alive After Being Drugged, Robbed

John Umberger and Julio Ramirez
John Umberger (L) and Julio Ramirez

A gang preying on gay men is suspected of drugging and robbing over a dozen victims and killing two -- John Umberger and Julio Ramirez.

More gay men in NYC are coming forward to share stories disturbingly similar to those of two gay men who were drugged, killed, and had their bank accounts emptied after a night out drinking earlier this year.

John Umberger, 33, of Washington D.C., was drugged, robbed, and killed after a night visiting gay bars in Hell's Kitchen on May 28. He was last seen with a group of men exiting a taxi and his body was found on June 1. Brooklyn social worker Julio Ramirez, 25, was found dead in the back of a taxi after he was drugged and robbed in the area on April 21. At least a dozen more have also reported being drugged and robbed by a group of men suspected of preying on gay men. Some survivors who spoke with NBC Newssaid they feel lucky to be alive.

Josh Pederson, 55, told the outlet how he was robbed after going to a party in Tribeca in 2018, blacking out while waiting for a taxi and then waking up in the back of a car with someone shaking him violently and saying "What's the PIN number? What's the PIN number? If you just give us the PIN number, we'll take you home."

His next memories were of being dropped off at his apartment building and waking up the following morning with a bruised and bloodied face. His phone was missing and his bank accounts were emptied.

"Part of it's like, am I crazy?" he said. "Women are so aware of this as a thing that happens. I don't think gay men would ever suspect that this could be done to them."

Tyler Burt, 27, said he went for a final drink at the Boiler Room in the East Village last December and that his last memory was sitting alone at the bar. The next thing he remembered was lying on his bed at home fully clothed. Like Pederson, his phone was gone, his accounts drained, and other items were also missing like his laptop and wallet -- worth about $15,000, he estimated.

"It sounded so eerily similar to what happened to me," Burt said about Ramirez's death.

"I don't think I was drinking nearly enough to have zero recollection. Also, that's never happened to me before," Burt told NBC News. "I'll go out and I'll get home and be like, 'Oh, gosh, I don't remember getting home,' or, 'I don't remember leaving,' or something like that because I drank a lot, but I don't remember anything. I don't remember a single thing after I had that drink, which has just never happened to me in my life before."

NYPC confirmed they are investigating several reports of robbery and assault in the area and said some but not all the victims were LGBTQ+, but gave no further details about the individual cases or overall investigation.

Both Pederson and Burt felt authorities initially appeared disinterested in their claims. Umberger's mother, Linda Clary, commended the police but criticized District Attorney Alvin Bragg for not doing more to find and prosecute her son's alleged killer.

"I can't be quiet anymore. Word needs to get out, especially in the gay community, that they are targeting gay men," Clary told the NY Post earlier this month, later adding, "This same group of killers have drugged, robbed, and murdered countless young gay men in New York."

Burt knows his fate could have been that of Umberger or Ramirez.

"I was like, 'I'm lucky to be alive,'" he said.

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