"You wanna die right here?"
The man had been following Mark Carson and a companion down a street full of Friday-night revelers, police said, hurling anti-gay slurs and eventually pulling out a gun. But this was the West Village, just blocks from the birthplace of the gay rights movement—a safe place if ever there was one, and friends later told the New York Times that 32-year-old Carson was out and proud.
"Is that your boy?" the gunman asked Carson.
"Yes," Carson replied.
The man shot him in the face.
The brazen murder on a street full of bar-hopping witnesses has stunned a city known for its tolerance and its place at the forefront of the gay rights movement. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly called it a "hate crime" at a news conference on Saturday and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who would become the city's first openly gay mayor if elected in November, vowed that New York City would not go back to a time when same-sex couples were afraid to walk the streets hand-in-hand.
But in recent months there has been a rise in bias-related crimes — 22 so far this year — with five attacks on gay men in the past three weeks alone. By this time last year, there had been 13 such crimes.
Police identified the perpetrator as 33-year-old Elliot Morales, who was arrested a few blocks away shortly after the shooting. Morales previously served more than 10 years in prison on a robbery conviction, the NY Post reported.
The events leading up to Carson's murder appear to paint a picture of a man who was looking for trouble. Earlier that night, police said, Morales exchanged tense words with a bartender at Annisa bar on Barrow Street after he was flagged for urinating outside.
Morales allegedly showed his gun to the bartender and a manager, threatened to shoot them if they called the police and repeatedly used anti-gay slurs. It was about 20 minutes after Morales left Annisa that he encountered Carson and his companion on W. 8th Street.