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Like couples all around the region, Loren West and Dustin Smith followed the tragic story of David Messerschmitt. The intellectual-property lawyer was found stabbed to death inside a room at a boutique hotel in downtown Washington. “I feel so bad for his wife,” Smith said.d they are gay men, who met online, and are now married.

In the mid-1990s, Craigslist was formed in California and swept the country offering simple, free connections arranged by users — whether to sell a sofa or start a relationship. These days, Smith and West live on a cul-de-sac in Alexandria, help care for three foster children and are looking to adopt.

Craigslist grew to be one of the largest players in online dating for men. That was also very dangerous,” said Mark Brooks, a longtime online dating consultant and president of the Internet Dating Executive Alliance. West said although they took basic precautions for online dating, something else was at play.

“All criminals have a niche, and online predators in this field prey on vulnerabilities — be that closeted men, married men or others seeking sex this way,” said Sgt.

And the safety of Craigslist users depends on how they use the site. He spoke on the condition of anonymity to guard the same anonymity he maintains in online posts.

Still, Craigslist and similar bulletin-board sites remain a popular venue for people who seek relationships in secret and for men seeking sex with other men.

On Thursday, the Washington area Craigslist page displayed more than 850 ads for men seeking men in its “casual encounters” section.

“I have lost everything,” Messerschmitt’s wife, Kim Vuong, said earlier, “my husband and my best friend.” The roots of online dating go back to the mid-1990s.

For gay men, early “chat rooms” offered a place to talk to hundreds of people about topics that many avoided with family, friends and co-workers.

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