A serial killer, a criminal gang or another phenomenon of violence that affects the LGBTI population in the cities of Colombia are the hypotheses that have surrounded the at least six homicides of gay men that have occurred so far this year in Medellín, capital of the department of Antioquia, in the western part of the country.
It was the same members of the population who used social networks to warn of a situation that was happening in the city: until that time five people had been killed, some in their homes and others in hotels, under similar conditions, apparently after having agreed meetings with strangers.
According to the Metropolitan Police of Medellín, to date and so far this year, there are six confirmed cases. Of these, two have been clarified with the capture of the perpetrators, but four others remain under investigation.
Following the allegations, Mayor Daniel Quintero appointed a special team to clarify and investigate the facts and established a reward of 80 million of pesos by those responsible, the same as for cases of femicide in the city.
“In recent months there has been a collective panic. There are queers who don't want to go out, who are scared,” said Mitchael Velásquez, a 'dragactivist' from Medellín under the pseudonym Myth Drag Queen, who has sought to draw attention to what is happening in the city and has called sittings to reject violence.
Velásquez, as well as other people from the LGBTI population in the city, have been struck by images of the victims that have been disseminated on social networks. Several of them tied hand and foot or one of them immersed in a bathtub.
The first recorded case involved Osvaldo Botero Giraldo, a 45-year-old merchant, killed on January 11 in his home in the La Castellana neighborhood. It was treated as a case of theft because his house had been torn over.
The second event occurred on January 28. The victim was identified as Juan David López Alzate, 31 years old. The family found him the next day in his apartment, tied hands and feet and his face covered. Apparently he would have been suffocated.
Another case was recorded on 1 February. Gustavo Alberto Arango, 52, arrived that day at a hotel in the La Candelaria neighborhood with a companion. Soon after, the person who had entered with him left the scene and an employee found the body of the victim who had been beaten to death.
The fourth incident occurred on February 15, when Sahmir Javier González Sarmiento was found by his partner dead by mechanical asphyxiation, tied his hands and feet with a leash and a sheet, inside his home in the Laureles neighborhood. He had entered minutes earlier with two other men, who were allegedly responsible for the incident.
From there, the authorities warned an alleged criminal gang, which, according to Colonel Rolfy Jiménez, was offering sexual services through social networks to deceive their victims, arrange meetings, attack them and steal them. On the same day, in a hotel in the San Joaquín neighborhood, the authorities helped an Australian citizen gagged and beaten with brutality, who had also been the victim of two men who deceived him with a sexual encounter.
A platform, popular among the gay population, but little known outside of that context, appeared on the scene, called Grindr, which works to connect people who are close geographically and is used for occasional encounters. Apparently, that virtual space would have been invaded by violent people to locate their victims.
The fifth case was recorded a month later, on March 16 in the neighborhood of La Estancia. Juan Danilo Bedoya Roman, 30, arrived at dawn that day with two subjects to his house; soon after, the strangers left and fled in a vehicle. When his mother went to see him, she found him tied up, half-naked and with several blows to the body. Some of his belongings had been stolen.
The two men (although it has not been confirmed that they are the same), the gagging of the victims and the asphyxiation were repeated in the last case recorded so far. On March 30, Hernán Macias López, 28, a native of the department of Caquetá, entered a hotel in the La Candelaria neighborhood with two other people.
His half-naked body was found the next day, tied hand and foot, with no signs of violence, submerged in the bathtub of the room that was more than half full of water. Less than a year ago he had come to the capital of Antioquia in search of opportunities to help his family and buy a house.
Brigadier General Javier Josué Martín Gámez, commander of the Aburrá Valley Metropolitan Police, said that no relationship had been established between the other cases, but there were common elements such as initial contact through social networks, as well as the way in which they had been killed.
However, for LGBTI rights organizations, these common elements are sufficient to establish a situation of systematic violence. Both Caribe Affirmativo, Colombia Diversa and the Social Alliance of Antioquia have pointed out the systematic nature of the cases.
According to the organization Colombia Diversa, the patterns of violence recorded correspond to the victimizing tendencies against this population in the country. “The six murders of gay men in Medellin are, unfortunately, a pattern of prejudice violence against gay men. From 2014 to 2020, Colombia Diversa has recorded 352 homicides against this population,” the organization told this media outlet.
“This is consistent with the patterns of violence described in the analysis of homicides against LGBT people between 2014 and 2018: most gay men die from stab wounds, while most trans women die from gun attacks,” she added.
The data would also indicate an exponential increase in violence. Colombia Diversa has a record (under verification) of two homicides of LGBT people that occurred in Medellin between January and March 2021, which compared to current figures, would have tripled.
Myth Drag Queen has turned her activism towards the collective to draw attention to this situation in the city. In his artistic events he takes the opportunity to call for self-care and denunciation, but it has led him to witness the general fear.
A friend even called him, in recent days, to ask him for support and security. He had agreed to meet two people through Grindr, he suspected that it was the alleged band that has been spread on social networks and decided to take the risk to try to expose them. But when they got into a car with the subjects, they drove him at high speed with an unknown course.
The plates were not identified in the records by the authorities and Myth only heard from his friend the next day, when he told him that he had sunrise in a hospital, with a stab wound to his leg.
The Medellín LGBTI Urgent Cases Board called for denouncing through institutional channels any situation of risk that threatens integrity or security. Through line 123 you can request the attention of the Diverse Module, special for this population.
Likewise, they called for collective care “so that together we reinforce and implement protection strategies, especially when encounters with unknown people and/or in places that are not public or that they do not usually frequent. It's important to stay in touch with friends or close ones who might be watching out in case something happens.”
The diverse population of Paisa fears that this wave of violence may grow. Even threatening pamphlets have been disseminated, which apparently only seek to sow greater fear and do not represent a real danger, but which have achieved their goal.
This Thursday, an artistic sit-in was held in La Alpujarra under the premise of “wanting to live without fear in our territories”, says Myth, one of the promoters. Combat the fear of holding one's partner's hand in the street, expressing love, but also of living sexuality freely without the latent threat of being killed, because enjoying that right cannot justify any kind of violence.