Friday marks one year since social worker Julio Ramirez was found dead in a taxi after a night out at a gay bar in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood. This week also brings long-awaited relief for his loved ones.
“To hear the phrase by the NYPD, by the mayor, ‘the murder of Julio Ramirez’ was validating,” said Ramirez’s close friend Karinina Quimpo, referring to a press conference held Tuesday by New York City officials to announce arrests made in connection with the case. “Finally — we are on the same page and we are on the right path to getting justice for him.”
Ramirez, who was 25, was last seen leaving The Ritz Bar and Lounge with three unidentified men before his bank account was drained of approximately $20,000 using facial recognition access on his phone, relatives said.
His cause of death remained listed as “pending” until about a month ago, when the New York City’s medical examiner’s office ruled Ramirez’s death as a homicide caused by a “drug-facilitated theft.” The office said that multiple drugs were found in his system, including fentanyl, lidocaine and cocaine.
Police said that in recent weeks they have arrested five men — Jayqwan Hamilton, Robert Demaio, Jacob Barroso, Andre Butts and Shane Hoskins — in connection with Ramirez’s death. Authorities also revealed that this case is part of a broader “citywide robbery scheme” that includes 17 incidents from Sept. 19, 2021, to Aug. 28, 2022. A sixth man, Eddie Ashley, was also charged in relation to the crimes and was already incarcerated, authorities said.
“I’m glad we can go to sleep tonight and that all the people responsible for Julio not being here are off the street. Like that’s the sliver of relief,” Ramirez’s brother, Carlos Ramirez, said. “This year has been really hard … because there were times where I really felt hopeless.”
Ramirez’s death first appeared to be a part of a pattern about a month later, when a 33-year-old man’s body was found in similar circumstances in a Manhattan townhouse.The man, John Umberger, was also last seen leaving a popular Hell’s Kitchen gay bar and his bank account drained of thousands of dollars.
Authorities initially told Umberger’s mom, Linda Clary, that her son’s death was an overdose, she said. But after reading NBC News’ coverage of Ramirez’s death, and through her own maternal intuition, Clary said she knew her son’s death was a homicide.
“Nothing made sense initially and it was like, ‘Wait a minute, John would not have gotten so depressed that he would have done a bunch of drugs and overdose,’” Clary said. “That’s just not who John was.”
The city’s medical examiner’s office confirmed that Umberger’s death was also caused by a drug-induced homicide. A similar mix of drugs were also found in his system, the office said.
Last month, the city’s medical examiner told NBC News it is investigating “several additional deaths in similar circumstances” to those of Ramirez and Umberger. It could not confirm whether these deaths are connected to the same suspects.
“It’s a scary thing to think about especially when you hear the number, like the number of cases that are happening. It’s worrisome because it’s like, oh, is nobody doing anything?” Carlos Ramirez said. “And I understand it’s probably more complex than it sounds, but it’s, it’s definitely concerning.”
This spring, Ramirez would have been in his second year of post-graduate work studying public health and social work. His brother imagines that he would have moved from Brooklyn to Manhattan, something he’d been planning to do, and that he’d be traveling and “just living his life.”
On days when she’s missing Ramirez, Quimpo said she surrounds herself with sunflowers — his favorite — and listens to music by Taylor Swift, which the pair bonded over. She added that she still sends Ramirez funny memes on Instagram and talks to him out loud, despite knowing that he cannot answer.
“Obviously it’s awful to be without him and there are days where I’ll be missing him so much and I won’t stop crying, but then I’ll remember that’s not what he would have wanted,” Quimpo said. “If he’s watching he’s trying to tell me, like, ‘Chill, keep living your life.’”
On Friday, Ramirez’s family and friends will be gathering at Ramirez’s parents’ home to conclude a novena prayer, which takes place over nine consecutive days. They plan to spend time together, watching home videos of Ramirez and looking through old photographs, they said.
“This weekend, of course, will be a weekend of mourning, but also to celebrate how far this trial has come and how much we still remember him,” Quimpo said, “and how people are … still following his story because they know that justice still needs to be served.”