Puerto Rican police have arrested a suspect in the murder of a gay teenager whose body was found decapitated and partially burned Friday in the southern town of Cayey, The Associated Press reports today.
Authorities are looking into whether Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado, 19, was targeted because he was gay, and the case has sent shockwaves across Puerto Rico’s LGBT community.
The newspaper Primera Hora is reporting that the suspect was identified after extensive interviews with Mercado’s friends in the town of Caguas, where Mercado was living. The suspect, a 28-year-old whose identity hasn’t been released, reportedly offered Mercado money for sex.
The Puerto Rico Police Department has removed Investigator Angel Rodriguez from the case after Rodriguez made comments suggesting that Lopez was to blame for his own death, according to Edge.
“When these type of people get into this and go out into the streets like this, they know this can happen to them,” Rodriguez reportedly said in a statement to local media outlets.
Puerto Rico Para Tod@s, the LGBT advocacy group, is calling for Rodriguez to be disciplined for the comment. The group is also calling on police to investigate the case as an anti-gay hate crime. Although Puerto Rico added sexual orientation to its hate crimes statute in 2002, Para Tod@s says the statute hasn’t been used to prosecute anti-gay violence. The FBI has announced it will take jurisdiction over the case if it’s determined that Lopez was killed because he was gay.
Lopez’s body was found after his friends reported that he failed to meet them as planned at a popular gay club in the Santurce neighborhood of San Juan. Authorities haven’t identified the suspect because he hasn’t been formally charged.
LGBT groups plan several vigils as well as a protest outside the U.S. territory’s Capitol.