Orlando Police say armed robbers target LGBTQ victims

(Photo from OPD website)

ORLANDO | Two suspects were arrested in connection with a string of robberies carried out in Orlando during June and July, several of which involved LGBTQ victims and one that resulted in a kidnapping.

The male suspects — one an 18-year-old and the other a 16-year-old — committed at least eight armed robberies and one kidnapping, according to a statement from the Orlando Police Department. 

According to police, the suspects contacted the victims using apps including Snapchat, Offer-Up, Craigslist and Letgo. The suspects used gay dating sites like Grinder and Sniffies to meet their LGBTQ victims.

The crimes took place at several apartment complexes in the Millenia area including The Fountains at Millenia, The Place at Millenia, Glen on Millenia, Century Millenia, the Villages on Millenia, Aria at Millenia, Northbridge on Millenia Lake and Ridge Club, according to police. The arrest warrants for the two suspects were issued on July 12.

Since the arrests, detectives have verified 11 incidents and investigators have linked four of those cases to members of the LGBTQ community.

The suspects would set up meetings with the victims “under the false pretense of either making a purchase transaction, or just to ‘meet up,'” according to police. One of the victims was kidnapped at gunpoint and forced to drive for hours to several ATMs while they made withdrawals.

Sgt. Mike Massicotte, with OPD’s Violent Crimes Unit, said because the suspects targeted members of the LGBTQ community in some of the instances, they are likely to face hate crime charges.

“That tripped the trigger for us to be able to mark it as a hate crime. We will now go backwards and all the other social dating websites that have that same feel, will also be labeled as a hate crime because of that,” Massicotte said.

The suspects targeted victims wishing to conceal their identity and activities, knowing they would likely not report the robberies, the press release said.

After “meeting up,” the victims were threatened with a firearm and forced to give up all valuables which included cell phones, credit cards and cash.

Henry Pao, one of the LGBTQ victims speaking with WESH 2 news, said after agreeing to meet up with one of the suspects he met using a dating app at a local apartment complex, he was led to a third floor staircase where he was ambushed by the second suspect.

“He came from behind me and put a gun to my back, or what I thought was a gun, and said ‘don’t say anything, it’s going to be easier for you if you don’t scream, you don’t say nothing,'” Pao told WESH 2.

The suspects then made Pao transfer cash to them using an app.

Pao said after that one suspect told him “It’s nothing towards you it’s just I’m broke. But this is what you get for doing this gay shit.”

Detectives have not released the names of the suspects as they believe there could be more victims who have yet to come forward and are urging them to do so.

“They do not need to press charges but I do need to know their story, so I can fill in all the blanks of all the incidents that were missing on these individuals,” Massicotte said.

Anyone with information on this case or any other victims wishing to come forward can call Crimeline at 1-800-423-8477 or report online at Crimeline.org. Those wanting to speak to detectives directly can call 407-246-2927.

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