Remembering Victims of Hate Crimes
San Gabriel, Calif.
Adel Karas was tolerance personified. For 20 years, the big, silver-haired Egyptian was a neighborhood fixture in Southern California's San Gabriel Valley.
His International Market lived up to its name, selling tortillas, African drums and Turkish pipes alongside the Budweiser and beach balls.
Karas greeted customers in Spanish, Arabic and English. "Por que ha venido, flaco?" he'd always kid one rail-thin Mexican-American. "Why have you come, skinny?"
On Sept. 15, the grocer was chuckling his way through another 12-hour Saturday when two young men burst into the International Market and shot him.
Karas crawled outside, where he was found bleeding on the sidewalk. He died soon after being taken to a hospital.
At first, police suspected a botched robbery. But all the cash had apparently been left in the register. Both the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department and the FBI have investigated Karas' slaying as a hate crime. No one had been arrested at press time.
Apparently, Karas' attackers mistook Karas for a Muslim and targeted him for revenge just four days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
In fact, the 48-year-old father of three was a Coptic Orthodox Christian who came to the United States to escape persecution by the Muslim majority in Cairo. It didn't take Karas long to adjust to his new surroundings.
"Before we knew it," said his nephew, Basem Wasef, "Adel was like the town mayor. People often stopped by the market just to say hello or socialize. He had a knack for bringing out the best in people and revealing a ray of light on the darkest of days."
Anthony Martilotto, 39
Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
On July 26, a maid at the Radisson Bahia Mar Hotel in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., discovered Anthony Martilotto's dead body. He had been strangled to death early that morning.
Nineteen days later, clear across the country in San Francisco, 43-year-old Kevin Begoon woke up in the middle of the night and fought off the strangler who has since admitted to killing Martilotto: 19-year-old Adam Ezerski.
Ezerski, a baby-faced drifter who established a prodigious criminal record as a juvenile and young adult, had fled across the country in Martilotto's red Mustang. Fearing that he was on an anti-gay killing spree, authorities launched a multi-state manhunt.
They caught up with Ezerski on Aug. 17 in Reno, Nev., on the opening night of that city's Gay Pride Festival. Extradited to Florida, Ezerski was charged with first-degree murder and robbery — but not with a hate crime.
According to Fort Lauderdale Police Det. John Curio, "It appeared that Adam was a hustler who targeted the victim after meeting him at a local bar, but did not target him out of any hate for gays."
Ezerski's brother, Aaron Smith, disputed this version of events, telling reporters that his brother is a homophobic woman-chaser.
"He's not a homosexual," Smith said, adding that Ezerski had once threatened a gay acquaintance with a gun. Besides, he said, Ezerski was engaged to his girlfriend of two years. "He's always chasing girls," said Smith. By all accounts, Martilotto's life in Weston, Fla., was calmer than that of his alleged killer.
"He was a homebody," said his older brother, Roland. "He wasn't one to frequent the bars and stuff, which made it really weird that this happened. I guess it was just a bad place at a bad time."
A native New Yorker, Martilotto moved to Florida with his mother in the mid-'90s, leaving his longtime home in Staten Island. Back home, he'd worked in the stock market.
After heading south, he became a live-in helper for elderly folks. The job was a natural for Anthony, who his brother says "always thought of the other person."
"He always thought everybody was his friend, too. That's probably why he got in trouble, being good-natured and trusting people like that. Growing up in New York, most people learn to be a different way, you know, but not Anthony."
Fred C. Martinez Jr., 16
On the night of June 16, Fred Martinez Jr. left his family's trailer in Cortez, Colo., headed for a local carnival. As usual, the Navajo teenager was wearing makeup and carrying a handbag.
Martinez called himself "nadleehi," or "two-spirited," because he believed he had the mind and spirit of a female inside his lanky frame.
Five days later, children playing in a trash-strewn canyon happened upon Martinez' decomposing remains. He had apparently been robbed of $40, beaten in the head with a rock, thrown in the canyon and left to die.
Eighteen-year-old Shaun Murphy of nearby Farmington, N.M., was arrested on July 4.
A friend of Murphy's told police he heard Murphy brag that he had "bug-smashed a joto" — a derogatory Spanish term for a gay man. Murphy, who had a record of violence as a juvenile, faces first- and second-degree murder charges.
Because Colorado's bias laws do not cover sexual orientation, Murphy could not be charged with a hate crime.
Activists cited Martinez' murder as an example of why such coverage is needed, prompting Cortez Police Chief Roy Lane to complain that people were "trying to turn this whole thing into a big political issue."
For Martinez' mother, Pauline Mitchell, the issue is mostly personal. She told the Intelligence Report the family embraced her youngest son's "two-spirited" nature, even if others in the community did not. "He has five brothers, and they all accept him. I sure accept him, too."
Since Martinez went missing, she said, things have been awfully subdued around the trailer.
"The others are shy," she said with a sigh. "He was a blabbermouth. Why would someone so fun to be around have to go? He would make anybody laugh, joke around a lot. Now it's so quiet around here. His nieces and nephews miss him. They say, 'Where's F.C.?' It's like he's going to walk back in and cheer everybody up again."