As Linda Clary wept over her son’s body last June, she begged him for answers.

“I need to know. What do you need to tell me?” she remembered saying at that moment. “What do I need to do? What happened?»

For her, her answer was clear: «Mom, I didn’t go willingly, I didn’t commit suicide, I fought and you have to fight for me,» she said.

Now, nearly a year of uncertainty after her 33-year-old son, John Umberger, was found dead in a Manhattan home after a night at a gay bar, Clary is finally getting some answers.

The New York City Medical Examiner’s Office ruled last week that the mysterious deaths of his son and Julio Ramirez, a 25-year-old social worker, who died in a separate but eerily similar incident, were homicides caused by a “drug-facilitated robbery”. ”At least five drugs were found in his system, including fentanyl, lidocaine and cocaine.

Both men were found dead last spring. after visits to LGBTQ venues in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan. Both had their bank accounts emptied after her death.

For Clary, at least one official is finally acknowledging what she said she «knew all along»: her son was a homicide victim. Their frustration echoes that of several gay men who told NBC News they survived similar incidents between December 2021 and October 2022, saying the medical examiner’s homicide ruling revived concerns that authorities initially rejected their claims. cases.

To police, «it looked like John had gone to a club, been robbed, emptied his credit cards from his wallet, but he still had his wallet, no phone, and he came home and did a bunch of drugs because he was so depressed about what happened,” Clary said, referring to her initial conversation with the New York City Police Department. “There it was like, ‘Sorry, that’s not my son.’ I can assure you that if that happened, that is not what John would have done.»

Linda Clary and John Umberger.Courtesy of Linda Clary

Determined, she flew to New York from her home in Georgia on June 4, a week after her son’s death, to claim his body and get answers. And with the help of six family members and her son’s friends, she retraced her steps. last few hours based on the information he was able to obtain through his bank transactions, phone records and who saw him last.

The group of seven then showed up at the 19th Precinct office the next day to present what they could gather to the police.

“They looked at us like we were from outer space,” Clary said. «Nobody was interested in finding out the truth.»

She said the group met with the officers and presented their information. Two days later, she received a call from the homicide detective assigned to her son’s case and has felt confident in the department’s investigation ever since, praising the detective for having the «upmost professionalism» and «commitment to finding the truth.»

But in early November, five months after her son’s death, she grew frustrated with the pace of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office’s involvement in her son’s case and turned to local media in hopes of exerting pressure.

In a statement, a press secretary for the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, Doug Cohen, said the investigation is «active» and «ongoing.»

Local reports in early November prompted more gay New Yorkers to come forward with similar accounts. In mid-November, the New York police confirmed that they were investigating additional accounts of grand theft at other local gay bars that resembled the Ramirez and Umberger cases. He also confirmed that he was investigating similar encounters that occurred at bars with no LGBTQ affiliations.

John Umberger;  Julio Ramirez.
John Umberger; Julio Ramirez.Linda Clary / Family Photo

Tyler Burt, 27, is among several gay men who told NBC News they had encounters similar to the ones that killed Ramirez and Umberger. After visiting a gay bar in Manhattan’s East Village in December 2021, he woke up the next morning confused and with $15,000 in funds and items stolen from him, he said.

Unable to fully remember what happened, he said he believes one or more people used his unconscious face to unlock his phone and bank accounts using facial recognition technology. He also said that he believes some kind of drug slipped into his drink, knocking him unconscious and causing him to pass out.

Burt said he reported the encounter to police the day after the incident occurred. He described the NYPD as sometimes callous and «reluctant» to do things like review surveillance footage. He shared with NBC News a chain of emails he had with the detective about his case, which showed that several of his requests for updates went unanswered for days and weeks.

“I felt like it wasn’t a priority at all,” he said. «I was the one that kept going, pestering this guy over and over again, and I wasn’t getting anywhere.»

He has not received an update on his case since last January, he said. However, she received a call from the detective assigned to her case in November after previously speaking with NBC News. The detective scolded him for speaking to the media, saying he could compromise his investigation, Burt said.

Portrait photo of Tyler Burt.
Tyler Burt.tyler burt

A 51-year-old Manhattan resident, who asked not to be named for fear of risking reprisals from those involved in his victimization, said that after having a similar encounter at a Hell’s Kitchen gay bar last July, the NYPD gave him «a little evasion». He said he repeatedly made unanswered phone calls to the detective assigned to his case and came up empty when he turned up at his local district office seeking answers.

“In the end they told me to stop going there, that they couldn’t do anything else,” he said.

Several of the men who were interviewed for this article also described their initial interactions with the NYPD as accusatory, with police repeatedly challenging them over their denials of illicit drug use and questioning their levels of alcohol consumption.

“I had a bit of a feeling of, you know, ‘maybe you shouldn’t have gone to a seedy gay bar,’” said one man, who reported being robbed after visiting a Chelsea gay leather bar in October. . .

The man, a 48-year-old Manhattan resident, asked not to be named for fear of putting himself in danger of reprisals from the criminals involved in his encounter. (He works at MSNBC, which, like NBC News, is owned by NBCUniversal.)

In a statement, an NYPD spokesperson confirmed that its “Crimes Against the Persons Unit, along with the Northern and Southern Manhattan Homicide Squads, are working closely with our partners at the District Attorney’s Office. of New York County to investigate various incidents in which people have been the victims of either robbery or assault.» The spokesperson added that «some of the victims are members of the LGBTQIA+ community, however it is believed that not all of the victims are.»

However, the spokesperson did not address specific questions about the allegations made by Clary and Burt.

State Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal, whose district includes the Hell’s Kitchen and Chelsea neighborhoods of Manhattan where many of the encounters took place, criticized the NYPD for what he described as «staying off.»

“Unfortunately, these lives were counted because they were gay men who were out in nightclubs,” said Hoylman-Sigal, who is gay. «And for whatever reason, there seems to be a bias against taking these types of crimes as seriously as if it happened to someone else.»

The NYPD did not directly respond to questions about his comment.

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