Wednesday, October 12, 2016

We remember Matt

Shortly after midnight on October 6, 1998, Mr. Shepard met Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson for the first time in Laramie, Wyoming.  Matthew thought that McKinney and Henderson were going to give him a ride home, but instead they drove to a remote rural area and proceeded to rob, pistol-whip, and torture Shepard, tying him to a fence and leaving him to die. 

According to their court testimony, McKinney and Henderson discovered Matthew's address and intended to steal from his home. Still tied to the fence, Mr. Shepard, who was still alive but in a coma, was discovered 18 hours later by Aaron Kreifels, a cyclist who initially mistook Shepard for a scarecrow. 
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Below are selected portions, said by Dennis Shepard (Matthew's Father) at the court trial related to the brutal murder of his son.
November 4, 1999

Ladies and gentlemen,a terrible crime was committed in Laramie thirteen months ago. Because of that crime, the reputation of the city of Laramie, theUniversity of Wyoming, and the State of Wyoming became synonymous with gay bashing, hate crimes, and brutality. Yesterday you, the jury, showed the world that Wyoming and the city of Laramie will not tolerate hate crimes.

Yes, this was a hate crime, pure and simple, with the added ingredient of robbery. My son Matthew paid a terrible price to open the eyes of all of us who live in Wyoming, the United States, and the world to the unjust and unnecessary fears, discrimination, and intolerance that members of the gay community face every day.

Yesterday’s decision by you showed true courage and made a statement. That statement is that Wyoming is the Equality State; that Wyoming will not tolerate discrimination based on sexual orientation; that violence is not the solution. Ladies and gentlemen, you have the respect and admiration of Matthew’s family and friends and of countless strangers around the world. Be proud of what you have accomplished. You may have prevented another family from losing a son or daughter. Your honor, I would also like to thank you for the dignity and grace with which this trial was conducted. Repeated attempts to distract the court from the true purpose of this trial failed because of your attentiveness, knowledge, and willingness to take a stand and make new law in the area of sexual orientation and the “Gay Panic” defense. By doing so you have emphasized that Matthew was a human being with all the rights and responsibilities and protections of any citizen of Wyoming.

My son Matthew did not look like a winner. After all, he was small for his age—weighing, at the most, 110 pounds, and standing only 5’2” tall. He was rather uncoordinated and wore braces from the age of 13 until the day he died. However, in his all too brief life, he proved that he was a winner. My son—a gentle, caring soul—proved that he was as tough as, if not tougher than, anyone I have ever heard of or known. On October 6, 1998, my son tried to show the world that he could win again. On October 12, 1998, my first-born son—and my hero—lost. On October 12, my first-born son—and my hero— died 50 days before his 22nd birthday. He died quietly, surrounded by family and friends, with his mother and brother holding his hand. All that I have left now are the memories.
 It’s hard to put into words how much Matt meant to family and friends and how much they meant to him. Everyone wanted him to succeed because he tried so hard. The spark that he provided to people had to be experienced. He simply made everyone feel better about themselves. Family and friends were his focus. He knew that he always had their support for anything that he wanted to try. Matt’s gift was people. He loved being with people, helping people, and making others feel good. The hope of a better world free of harassment and discrimination because a person was different kept him motivated. All his life he felt the stabs of discrimination. Because of that he was sensitive to other people’s feelings. He was naive to the extent that, regardless of the wrongs people did to him, he still had faith that they would change and become “nice.” Matt trusted people, perhaps too much. Violence was not a part of his life until his senior year in high school. He would walk into a fight and try to break it up. He was the perfect negotiator. He could get two people talking to each other again as no one else could. Matt loved people and he trusted them. He could never understand how one person could hurt another, physically or verbally. They would hurt him, and he would give them another chance. This quality of seeing only good gave him friends around the world. He didn’t see size, race, intelligence, sex, religion, or the hundred other things that people use to make choices about people. All he saw was the person.

I loved my son and, as can be seen throughout this statement, was proud of him. He was not my gay son. He was my son who happened to be gay. He was a good-looking, intelligent, caring person. There were the usual arguments, and at times he was a real pain in the butt. I felt the regrets of a father when he realizes that his son is not a star athlete. But it was replaced with a greater pride when I saw him on the stage. The hours that he spent learning his parts, working behind the scenes, and helping others made me realize that he was actually an excellent athlete—in a more dynamic way—because of the different types of physical and mental conditioning required by actors. To this day I have never figured out how he was able to spend all those hours at the theater, during the school year, and still have good grades.
 Matt officially died at 12:53 a.m. on Monday, October 12, 1998, in a hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado. He actually died on the outskirts of Laramie tied to a fence that Wednesday before, when you beat him. You, Mr. McKinney, with your friend Mr. Henderson, killed my son. By the end of the beating, his body was just trying to survive. You left him out there by himself, but he wasn’t alone.
 
There were his lifelong friends with him—friends that he had grown up with. You’re probably wondering who these friends were. First, he had the beautiful night sky with the same stars and moon that we used to look at through a telescope. Then, he had the daylight and the sun to shine on him one more time—one more cool, wonderful autumn day in Wyoming. His last day alive in Wyoming. His last day alive in the state that he always proudly called home. And through it all he was breathing in for the last time the smell of Wyoming sagebrush and the scent of pine trees from the snowy range. He heard the wind—the ever-present Wyoming wind—for the last time. He had one more friend with him. One he grew to know through his time in Sunday school and as an acolyte at St. Mark’s in Casper as well as through his visits to St. Matthew’s in Laramie. He had God. I feel better knowing he wasn’t alone.
 My son died because of your ignorance and intolerance. I can’t bring him back. But I can do my best to see that this never, ever happens to another person or another family again. As I mentioned earlier, my son has become a symbol—a symbol against hate and people like you; a symbol for encouraging respect for individuality; for appreciating that someone is different; for tolerance. I miss my son, but I’m proud to be able to say that he is my son.


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