Friends of Slain Gay Activist Hunt for Clues Amid Police Response Probe
SUNNYSIDE — Family and friends of Lou Rispoli, a gay activist and longtime Queens resident who was fatally beaten on a Sunnyside street in October, are hoping new sketches of the suspects will bring them closer to finding the men responsible for the crime.
The sketches of the two wanted men were released by police on Friday, more than three months after Rispoli's murder on Oct. 20, and were the first major break in the case since then.
The NYPD's Internal Affairs Bureau is looking into how officers handled the investigation in its earliest hours, according to Deputy Inspector Donald Powers of the 108th Precinct.
According to a Sunnyside Post report from November, there was a 36-hour delay between the attack on Rispoli and the arrival of a police crime scene van.
"Our Internal Affairs Bureau is handling that," Powers said at the precinct's community council meeting Tuesday night. "When they’re done, we’ll let you know."
Powers said the sketches of two men — a white man in his 20s and a Hispanic man in his 30s — were based on "new information" gleaned recently in the investigation.
"We weren’t sitting on that. That was collected recently," he said, saying the case was on the precinct's "front burner." He said they also obtained a description of the getaway car, described as a two-door, white, new-model sports car with very bright headlights and a noticeably loud muffler.
On Tuesday evening, Rispoli's grieving family and friends were taking matters into their own hands, canvassing several Sunnyside subway stations with the sketches in the hopes that it might lead to a break in the case.
"It's not about revenge. For me, it's about closure," said Danyal Lawson, Rispoli's husband and partner for more than 32 years, as he handed out fliers at the 40th Street-Lowery Street station, just blocks from where the beating took place. "Until they catch these people, there will never be closure for me."
Rispoli, 62, was walking on 43rd Avenue in Sunnyside just after 2 a.m. on Oct. 20 when he was approached by two men, who briefly struck up a conversation before hitting him on the head with a blunt object, witnesses said at the time. A third man was seen keeping watch. Rispoli died from his injuries five days later, when his family took him off life support.
"It is important that we take these brutal murderers off the streets," said City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who represents Sunnyside and was a close personal friend of Rispoli's. He said he and others are frustrated by the lack of progress on the case.
"There are more unanswered questions when it comes to this investigation, unfortunately, than all of us would like," he said.
Lawson said he believes the beating was a random act of violence committed by strangers.
"This was a senseless act. I really do believe that in my heart it was just the wrong place at the wrong time," he said. "For someone to brutally hit someone over the head…you have to have a lot of hate and rage in you."
Rispoli, who worked as an administrator at the Greenwich House Music School in Greenwich Village, was active in the local arts community and was an activist in the early AIDS and gay rights movements, Lawson said. A Sunnyside resident for more than 30 years, Rispoli loved the neighborhood and was well-known in the community.
His birthday is this Friday, when he would have turned 63, Lawson said.
"A wonderful person was taken from a lot of people," he said. "It's very emotional. It's much harder now than even three months ago, just the reality of it all."
On Tuesday, Sunnyside resident Sara Casablanca, 52, was handed a flier of the suspects as she got off the train. She said Rispoli’s murder — along with the high-profile killing of Woodside resident Sunando Sen, who was pushed to his death in front of a subway train at the 40th Street station in December — made her feel uneasy in the neighborhood for the first time in the 30 years she’s lived there.
“It’s scary. Before, you left your door open. Now we tell everyone, our elderly neighbors, to lock their doors. It’s changed,” she said. “Once it gets late, I don’t like to go out.”
A $22,000 has been offered for information in the Rispoli case. Anyone with information in regards to this incident is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-577-TIPS (8477). The public can also submit tips by logging onto the Crime Stoppers website at WWW.NYPDCRIMESTOPPERS.COM or by texting their tips to 274637 (CRIMES) then enter TIP577.