Murder is unfortunately a daily occurrence in the United States and we normally don't bat an eye when we hear about an untimely death. However, when the nation heard about a young gay man beaten in Wyoming everything felt different.
The Killing Of Matthew Shepard
October 12 marked the 20th anniversary of the murder of Matthew Shepard, a death few alive at the time have been able to forget.
On October 6th Matthew Shepard met Aaron Mckinney and Russell Henderson at Fireside Lounge in Laramie, WY. They offered him a ride home and once he was in the car they beat, tortured and robbed him. Shepard was left to die alone near the side of a little used highway.
He was found 18 hours after the initial beating when Aaron Kreifels cycled by. He initially assumed the lifeless body was a scarecrow as McKinney and Henderson had tied Shepard to a fence during their vicious assault. Shepard was rushed to hospital where he lay in a coma for 6 days before finally succumbing to his injuries.
The attack was uncommonly savage. Reports say Shepard's face was completely covered in blood, except where his tears had washed it clean. The horrible facts pushed the crime to the front of newspapers everywhere.
Candlelight vigils were held outside the hospital and a national conversation began to emerge. Shepard was an openly gay man and the brutality of the crime led many to think of it as a hate crime.
McKinney and Henderson were arrested within hours of Shepard being found. Police initially arrested them after they started a fight with two hispanic teenagers, but found bloody clothes warn by Shepard and his wallet.
The two were easily convicted and as a jury debated a death penalty Shepard's parents spoke in favor of sparing their lives. They were eventually sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
With their son dead and horrid details being relayed in court, the murder trial must have been Hell for Shepard's parents, but anti-gay protesters made it all that much worse.
The Westboro Baptist Church protested outside the courthouse and thousands joined with incendiary statements saying Shepard deserved to die because he was gay. A website even held a counter saying "how many days Matthew Shepard has been in Hell" counting up since the day of his death.
The Angel Action, a group that counter protests the Westboro Baptists and other groups was started by one of Shepard's friends. They appear with angel wings and encircle protesters, keeping them from inflicting further harm on grieving families.
Because of these protests the Shepard family never buried their son, fearing that his grave would become a magnet to vandals and homophobes.
Finally, after 20 years, the Shepard family will be able to lay their son to rest.
Washington National Cathedral
Earlier this week it was announced that Shepard would be interred at the Washington National Cathedral. The prestigious resting place houses only around 200 other people and will be a safe and solemn final resting place.
“I think it’s the perfect, appropriate place,” Matthew's father Dennis said in an interview.
Marriann Edgar Budde, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington said Shepard's death was a "wound on our nation" and thinks it's fitting that he receives this honor now.
The Cathedral recently held services for Sen. John McCain, and it's visited by over 270,000 annually.
“It’s a place where there’s an actual chance for others to sit and reflect about Matthew, and about themselves, and about their friends,” Dennis said.
Matthew Shepard never strayed far from many minds, and the country is undoubtedly in a better place than it was 20 years ago. There's still so much work to do, but now, at least, Matthew can rest.