Victims of the deadly druggings that terrorized NYC's gay bars are haunted by unknowns -

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Ashley grew up downtown. As a precocious schoolhouse dropout, he said he had been moving toward earning immoderate benignant of employment certificate earlier he was sent to Rikers. He was surviving pinch his aged grandma successful Manhattan’s Lower East Side and taking attraction of her.

“I had a batch of s--- going connected before,” Ashley said. “I was trying to get my life together.”

On May 14, 2022, Ashley went to The Ritz — nan aforesaid barroom wherever Ramirez was past seen a period earlier — looking for a hookup, he said. He said he had been to nan barroom 2 aliases 3 times before. 

Prosecutors said Ashley near nan barroom and went to nan flat of nan man whose telephone and wallet Ashley would later steal. Ashley said he does not retrieve going backmost to nan man’s flat but does retrieve that he had not met nan man before. He described nan man arsenic being successful his 20s and Latino.

The Ritz Bar and Lounge successful Hell's Kitchen.The Ritz Bar and Lounge successful Hell's Kitchen.Julius Constantine Motal / NBC News

Police obtained information footage of Ashley utilizing nan victim’s telephone to salary for Taco Bell that aforesaid greeting via Apple Pay, according to prosecutors. Ashley said he does retrieve getting Taco Bell but suggested nan unfortunate could person bought him food.

In April, Ashley was arrested and charged pinch robbery, expansive larceny, petit larceny and personality theft for 4 incidents from October 2021 to August 2022, including nan May 2022 encounter, which was linked to nan broader crime scheme, according to prosecutors. Unable to make bail, he was sent to nan notorious Rikers Island jail.

After astir 7 months there, Ashley said he changed his plea to blameworthy truthful he tin service clip successful situation elsewhere. For years, nan monolithic jailhouse analyzable has been nether scrutiny by criminal justness activists and lawmakers from astir nan state for its allegedly “inhumane conditions.” 

Ashley had 1 connection to picture his clip astatine Rikers: “rough.”

He said he’s been successful fights pinch inmates, adding, “Maybe 2 aliases 3 altercations pinch officers’ usage of force, but that’s astir it.”

Being successful custody has besides taken an immense affectional toll, he said. His grandma died while he was down bars. 

He explained that, sloppy of nan different crimes he committed, he believes nan May 2022 brushwood had an outsize effect connected his sentencing because it was linked to nan wider scheme.

Ashley was not charged pinch execution and was not coming connected nan nights of either Ramirez’s aliases Umberger’s deaths, according to prosecutors. He said he only recovered retired astir nan wider crime strategy erstwhile he obtained an lawyer upon his arraignment.

“I knew it had thing to do pinch me,” he said of victims who were drugged and died.

Prosecutors allege that different 1 of nan six suspects, Hamilton, who was charged pinch execution successful nan deaths of some Ramirez and Umberger, was coming connected nan nighttime Ashley committed nan robbery successful May 2022. Hamilton was accused of giving Ashley’s unfortunate an chartless illicit constituent extracurricular nan barroom and utilizing nan victim’s telephone to bargain $2,000 from his slope accounts. Hamilton’s lawyer declined to comment.

Ashley said he remembers Hamilton being astatine nan barroom that night, but he maintains that he ne'er saw Hamilton drugging anyone. Ashley declined to opportunity really he knew Hamilton, citing Hamilton’s ongoing case, but said they were not friends. He besides denied knowing immoderate of nan different 4 defendants.

After sitting pinch NBC News successful nan Rikers visitors’ hallway — a astir quiet room that could spot hundreds — for astir 15 minutes, Ashley called a correction serviceman complete to extremity nan meeting.

“I don’t moreover attraction anymore,” Ashley said erstwhile asked astir being connected by authorities to a broader strategy that led to nan decease of 2 men, stepping off. “It’s down me.”

A personification clasp signs a motion pinch an illustration of Julio RamirezPeople clasp signs for a vigil commemorating Julio Ramirez successful New York successful June 2022.Julius Constantine Motal /. NBC News

For nan victims and families of nan deceased, nan yearslong crime strategy has been difficult to time off behind. 

Many of nan victims who said pinch NBC News described re-entering New York City’s nightlife segment pinch apprehension. 

The 51-year-old man said he’s been retired only erstwhile aliases doubly since he was robbed. He said he’s acrophobic that his assailants — who he said do not look to beryllium immoderate of nan suspects arrested successful caller months — mightiness admit him.

“I spell consecutive to activity and consecutive to home,” he said. “I’m ever looking around; I’m ever suspicious of everything.”

Michael said he is slow trying to re-enter New York’s nightlife segment aft being abandoned successful East Harlem. 

“My therapist has told maine to beryllium much discerning astir people, and that’s a bully defense mechanism, but I don’t really for illustration that, you know?” Michael said. “I for illustration nan personification I am. I for illustration being friends and trusting and open, and it would really suck if that’s thing that was permanently changed by this experience.”

Michael went backmost to The Eagle NYC for nan first clip past month. Instead of opting for a precocious nighttime out, he went for happy hr earlier successful nan evening.

All but 1 of nan surviving victims who said pinch NBC News said they still person facial nickname package connected their phones retired of convenience. Some statement that nan larger rumor is nan threat of being drugged, sloppy of whether a criminal tin unlock a person’s telephone and bargain their money.

The Ramirez family did not observe Thanksgiving aliases Christmas past year, Carlos said, and does not scheme connected doing truthful this twelvemonth either. For Carlos personally, he said he misses his champion friend.

“When thing happens and it’s bully news and he’s not here, I can’t stock it pinch him. It benignant of takes distant from it,” Carlos said. “That’s really hard.”

Clary said she hasn’t built up nan courageousness to spell done her son’s belongings successful his flat successful Washington, D.C. More recently, she’s made a fistful of trips to New York City for nan pretrial tribunal appearances of nan suspects charged successful relationship pinch her son’s death. 

Clary has been enjoying her caller domiciled arsenic a grandma successful caller months. But moreover that, she said, has been challenging astatine times.

“That full acquisition is diminished because John is not here,” she said. “At immoderate constituent I person to fto spell of John not being present and spot God that He has a scheme that this life, that we deliberation is everything, is truthful mini compared to eternity.”

When she’s successful New York, she said she likes to predominant immoderate of her son’s favourite restaurants successful Manhattan: The Waverly Inn successful nan West Village, Minetta Tavern successful Greenwich Village and La Goulue connected nan Upper East Side, across nan thoroughfare from nan flat wherever her boy died.

“It is simply a benignant of ridiculous, not logical thing,” Clary said. “But you for illustration to spell to nan places he enjoyed being astatine because you’re thinking, ‘Yeah, this is nan closest point you person to him being here.’”

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