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What to Know About the Fatal Stabbing of O’Shae Sibley

8 minute read
Updated: | Originally published:

On Saturday night at a gas station in Brooklyn, N.Y., a group of friends were dancing to a Beyoncé song when another group of men, who witnesses say used homophobic slurs, told them to stop. Surveillance footage shows one of the friends, O'Shae Sibley, a 28-year-old gay man who was a professional dancer, confronting the men. An argument began. Within minutes, police say, one of the men stabbed Sibley.

New York Police are investigating the fatal stabbing as a potential hate crime; Mayor Eric Adams referred to the incident as one on Monday.

Otis Pena, a close friend of Sibley's, says he tried to stop the bleeding by pressing on the wound but Sibley was pronounced dead after being taken to Maimonides Medical Center. “They murdered him because he was gay, because he stood up for his friends,” Pena said in a video posted to Facebook hours after the stabbing.

LGBTQ advocates highlighted that the fatal stabbing comes amid a string of violent incidents. “O’Shae Sibley’s shocking murder follows a disturbing rise in violence and harassment against LGBTQ people across the U.S. This cannot continue. No one should have to fear for their safety just for being themselves,” said GLAAD director of local news Darian Aaron. “O’Shae Sibley had the audacity to live without the restraints of patriarchy and toxic masculinity, embracing freedom and joy. He should still be alive to celebrate all that made him great and inspired others to live their truth.”

Here’s what to know about the case. 

What happened to O'Shae Sibley?

Sibley stopped at a Mobil gas station in the Midwood neighborhood of Brooklyn with his friends on Saturday around 11 p.m. E.T.

He was vogueing—a form of dance that is rooted in Harlem’s queer ballroom scene in the 1980s—to Beyoncé​​’s Renaissance before the heated argument began. The album, which critics have described as "a love letter to the Black queer roots of dance music," has taken on a special meaning for the queer community.

A Mobil gas station in Brooklyn, New York.
O'Shae Sibley was stabbed in front of a Mobil gas station in Brooklyn, N.Y.Theodore Parisienne—New York Daily News/Tribune News Service/Getty Images

Police received a call around 11:15 p.m. about a stabbing. Upon arriving, they found Sibley with a “stab wound to the torso,” according to a statement that police emailed to TIME. “There are no arrests and the investigation is ongoing,” the police said in the statement.

Video obtained by the ABC 7 Eyewitness News showed some members of the victim’s group walking up to the other men before a tense conversation; after a few minutes, only the victim and suspect are seen speaking to each other. The victim walks away but the two groups then start arguing again, before the stabbing takes place.

NBC News has reported that law enforcement sources have identified the suspect as a 17-year-old who remains at large.

Summy Ullah, an employee of the store next to the gas station, told Gothamist that Sibley and his friends were approached by a group of men who said the dancing offended their Muslim faith. “These people were like 'we’re Muslim, I don’t want you dancing,'” Ullah told Gothamist, adding that Sibley and his friends were "not trying to fight."

“We have our own life. We can do whatever we want, you know. We’re dancing, that’s our life,” Ullah said the victim’s group told the men harassing them, according to the Daily News.

Read more: Pete Buttigieg on LGBTQ Rights: ‘I Don’t Think Anything Is Safe’

A hate-crime investigation

The NYPD confirmed to TIME that the stabbing is being investigated as a “possible biased incident.” Local leaders have publicly condemned the tragedy, speaking out against the homophobia that has cut people’s lives short. “We have an incident like we saw over the weekend where this young man was experiencing a hate crime. We will find this person. It shakes our confidence," said New York City Mayor Adams during a Monday press conference.

Sibley’s passing comes at a time of heightened fear for many within the LGBTQ community. A March 2023 report by the Marshall Project found that group-targeting incidents aimed at LGBTQ people were the category of hate crime that saw the second-greatest increase from 2020 to 2021, while gay men were the third most-targeted group overall. Meanwhile, the ACLU has tracked nearly 500 anti-LGBTQ bills introduced throughout the 2023 legislative session. This trend has garnered federal attention, prompting President Joe Biden to announce a LGBTQI+ Community Safety Partnership on June 8 to better protect queer individuals in response to increased violence and hate against “individuals and community spaces.”

Sibley’s passing marks the fifth time a queer individual has been killed in the past few weeks, GLAAD reports. Other victims include 18-year-old transgender Jacob Williamson, who was killed in South Carolina after meeting with a stranger he met online on June 30, and 24-year-old Akira Ross, who was shot at a gas station in front of her partner after the gunman yelled homophobic slurs, according to a police affidavit.

Read more: Column—Queer People Must Use History as a Guide to Fight Hate

Friends remember Sibley

Kemar Jewel, a choreographer and director, met Sibley about a decade ago, when Sibley was 16. Sibley would call him uncle. They would hang out at gay community-based organizations in Philadelphia and learned how to vogue by watching Youtube videos. Jewel remembers his “cute, goofy smile” and says they both clicked as Black gay men who danced. 

Jewel considered Sibley chosen family. Jewel says he has helped Sibley with his homework, given him money for food and clothes, and provided a place to stay when he was going through a tough period. “He loved dressing up and playing around and he loved to explore,” Jewel says.

Jewel says he used Sibley in many of his own dance pieces. “O'Shae’s skill and gift is that he was so great at combining different styles of dance: he could put jazz into ballet, he could put modern into voguing,” Jewel says. One of his favorite dances by Sibley was a Lion King-inspired performance for Black gay Pride in New York City. “That was O’Shae’s favorite musical,” he says.

Jewel is currently in London working on a theater piece about Black, queer, and trans young people finding ballroom dance and using it as a source of family, love, and healing. “That is our story. That is me and O’ Shae’s story,” he says. Jewel says he cried before opening night on Wednesday and said a prayer for his friend.

Ja’Michael Darnell, who works at Ailey Extension, performed with Sibley at The Ailey Spirit Gala in May at Jazz at Lincoln Center and took jazz classes with him. He also admired his friend’s skill. “O'Shae would always have an extra flair in his turns or his kicks. He gracefully moved across the floor and it was a beautiful sight to see,” Darnell says. “There are so many students in that class that were in awe of O'Shae and the way he moved; he was often used as an example for the instructor to kind of teach us.”

He recalls Sibley being a thoughtful friend. Before a performance that fell on Darnell’s birthday, Sibley spontaneously sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to him. “It made me feel special, just having known him for a couple of months,” Darnell says.

Reactions to the tragedy

GLAAD highlighted that Sibley’s killing follows a “disturbing rise in violence and harassment against LGBTQ people across the U.S.” in a statement. “This cannot continue. No one should have to fear for their safety just for being themselves.”

Sibley’s aunt Tondra told the New York Times that “all he wanted to do was dance.” As a young child, he loved “jerking” to Missy Elliot before going on to learn professional ballet. He moved from Philadelphia to pursue more opportunities, she said.

Neighbor Beckenbaur Hamilton told NBC News that he had warned Sibley to be careful. “There’s no progress…we live here in a community where we have to pretend to be somebody else,” Hamilton said.

The dance studio where Sibley was a student posted a statement mourning his death on social media. The Ailey Extension described him as a “cherished and devoted” student with “incredible energy.” 

“We are shocked and heartbroken that O’Shae’s life has been taken by senseless violence and extend our sincere condolences to his family and loved ones,” the statement read.

Brad Hoylman-Sigal, a state senator in New York who is gay, tweeted that “gay joy is not a crime. Hate-fueled attacks are.”

Beyoncé offered her condolences, too—posting on her website, "rest in power O’Shae Sibley.”

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Write to Sanya Mansoor at sanya.mansoor@time.com