Orlando police seek additional victims in Millenia-area hate crime robbery spree

·3 min read

Orlando Police Department detectives are looking for additional victims in what they described as a hate crime spree targeting members of the LGBTQ+ community.

In a statement, the agency said two people had been arrested in the string of at least eight robberies and one kidnapping since June, which it said occurred at apartments in the Millenia area.

The agency has not released the names of the suspects, but Sgt. Mike Massicotte said they are 16- and 18-year-old boys. Detectives believe the two are responsible for at least 11 verified incidents, and investigators have tentatively linked them to five or six additional cases.

OPD officials have not indicated what charges the teens are facing. Arrest reports were not immediately made available upon request.

Police said the suspects used apps including Snapchat, Offer-Up, Craigslist and Letgo to meet victims under the guise of selling them something — but, in four cases, used dating sites like Grinder and Sniffies, specifically seeking out LGBTQ+ victims.

The two began the string of crimes by robbing people on the sidewalk in the International Drive and Americana Boulevard area, then began targeting the Millenia area around May and June, Massicotte said — though investigators believe the same suspects have been responsible for older cases, including some in January and February.

The pattern of crimes in Millenia emerged at apartments between West Oak Ridge Road and Conroy Road, with one instance in the parking lot of the Mall at Millennia, Massicotte said.

Police said the robbery locations included The Fountains at Millenia, The Place on Millenia, Glen on Millenia, Century Millenia, the Villages on Millenia, Aria at Millenia, Northbridge on Millenia Lake and Ridge Club.

Detectives linked the crimes because the suspects’ methods, and victims’ descriptions of the suspects, were similar.

The suspects would bring victims to stairwells at Millenia-area apartment complexes for an arranged sale, ambush and rob them at gunpoint, Massicotte said. The suspects stole their cell phones, tablets, credit cards and cash, police said, while sometimes also ordering victims to transfer cash through mobile banking and payment apps.

They began using LGBTQ+ dating apps to identify and target victims around May and June, he said, and within weeks the suspects were meeting victims as often as every other day.

The method of the crimes escalated around that time, and the suspects began keeping victims for “extended periods of time” and having them go through banking apps to transfer money, Massicotte said. They would also search victims and their cars for money and phones.

One victim was kidnapped at gunpoint, Massicotte said, and forced to drive the suspects to ATMs for several hours while making withdrawals.

Two cases involved people from out of the area who were staying at hotels, he said. In those cases, the suspects paid for Uber rides to the victims’ hotels to pick them up.

Detectives’ suspicions that the suspects were targeting LGBTQ+ victims were confirmed after a victim reported being robbed at gunpoint July 7 as a suspect told him, “This is what you get for doing that gay [expletive],” Massicotte said.

“That tripped the trigger for us to be able to mark that as a hate crime,” he said.

Investigators say the suspects targeted LGBTQ+ victims because they believed they were less likely to report the crimes.

“Some of these individuals don’t want to be publicly outed, they don’t want people to know what’s happening, and they’re not going to report,” Massicotte said.

The suspects could face elevated charges with the classification of the incidents as hate crimes, Massicotte said.

Investigators believe the teens targeted additional victims and are asking others to come forward to help piece together a timeline of the crimes, Massicotte said. In reporting these incidents, victims do not have to press charges.

“This is a focused, directed attack on a community of Orlando,” he said. “We need that to be brought to light and the severity of it known to the populace.”

Anyone with information can call Crimeline via 1-800-423-8477 or report a crime online at https://crimeline.org/.

Those wanting to speak to detectives directly can call 407-246-2927.

krice@orlandosentinel.com

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