NEW YORK -- A gunman used homophobic slurs before firing a fatal shot point-blank into a man's face on a Manhattan street alive with a weekend midnight crowd, in a neighbourhood long known as a bedrock of the gay-rights movement. New York's police commissioner called the killing a hate crime.
Before opening fire early Saturday, the gunman confronted the victim and his companion in Greenwich Village and asked if they "want to die here," police commissioner Raymond Kelly said.
The violence follows a series of recent attacks on gay men in New York, but this was the first deadly one. Kelly said police are looking into possible links between the incidents.
The shooting was shocking in a city where in many neighbourhoods same-sex couples walk freely holding hands. It also comes at a time when the gay-marriage movement is gaining momentum in many parts of the United States. Twelve states have legalized same-sex marriage, including New York in 2011.
Christine Quinn, the New York City Council speaker who is bidding to be the city's first gay mayor, said there was a time in New York when hate crimes were a common occurrence -- when two people of the same gender could not walk down the street arm in arm without fear of violence and harassment.
"We refuse to go back to that time," said Quinn, who represents Greenwich Village on the council. "This kind of shocking and senseless violence, so deeply rooted in hate, has no place in a city whose greatest strength will always be its diversity."
About 15 minutes before the bloodshed, Kelly said, the gunman was seen urinating outside an upscale restaurant a few blocks from the Stonewall Inn, the site of 1969 riots that helped give rise to the modern gay-rights movement when patrons at a gay bar reacted to police harassment.
The gunman went inside the restaurant and asked if someone was going to call the police about him. Police said the gunman, identified later as 33-year-old Elliot Morales, told both the bartender and the manager, "If you do call the police, I'll shoot you" and opened his sweatshirt to reveal a shoulder holster with a revolver and made anti-gay remarks, Kelly said.
Morales has a previous arrest for attempted murder in 1998, police said. Details of that arrest weren't immediately clear.
Out on the street minutes later, the gunman and two others approached the 32-year-old victim, identified by police as Harlem resident Marc Carson, and a companion. One of the three men yelled out, "What are you, gay wrestlers?" according to Kelly.
The two men stopped, turned and, according to Kelly, said to the group taunting them, "What did you say?" -- then kept walking.
"There were no words that would aggravate the situation spoken by the victims here," the commissioner said. Two of the men kept following the victim and his companion, Kelly said, adding witnesses saw the pair approach from behind while repeating anti-gay slurs.
The gunman asked the men if they were together and when he got an affirmative answer, Kelly said, "we believe that the perpetrator says to the victim, 'Do you want to die here?' "
That's when suspect produced the revolver and fired one shot into Carson's cheek, Kelly said.
-- The Associated Press