Matthew Shepard



Matthew Shepard | Digital Journal | 14351

Matthew Shepard was a student at the University of Wyoming who was tortured and murdered near Laramie, Wyoming, in October 1998, age 21. He was attacked on the night of October 6–7, and died at Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado, on October 12 from severe head injuries.

On October 7, 1998, Shepard met Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson at the Fireside Lounge in Laramie, Wyoming and they offered him a ride home, but drove the car to a remote place where they robbed, pistol-whipped and tortured him, tied him to a fence and left him to die. Shepard was discovered 18 hours later by a cyclist, Aaron Kreifels, who found him in a coma with fractures to the back of his head and in front of his right ear, with severe brain-stem damage, which affected his body’s ability to regulate heart rate, body temperature, and other vital functions. There were small lacerations around his head, face, and neck. His injuries were deemed too severe for doctors to operate and he never regained consciousness.


A candlelight vigil is held for Matthew Shepard, New York, Oct. 19, 1998 | Evan Agostini/Getty Images | ABC News | 14258

Police arrested Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson shortly after the attack. The prosecution alleged that McKinney and Henderson pretended to be gay in order to gain Shepard’s trust to rob him. Henderson pleaded guilty on April 5, 1999, and agreed to testify against McKinney to avoid the death penalty, receiving two consecutive life sentences. McKinney was found guilty of felony murder by a jury and was sentenced to two consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole, after Shepard’s parents intervened.

The case led to a hate crime law known as The Matthew Shepard Act. On October 22, 2009, the act was passed by the Senate by a vote of 68-29. President Obama signed the measure into law on October 28, 2009.

In December 1998 Matthew’s mother Judy Shepard founded The Matthew Shepard Foundation to promote diversity and tolerance in youth organizations.

In October 2014 The Guardian published claims that the murder of Shepard was related to drugs and was not a gay hate crime.

Matthew’s mother, Judy Shepard, who has since become a staunch advocate for the lives of LGBT people, wrote about what she learned in the days following her son’s death:

We learned about the LGBT community and its long struggle for acceptance and equality. We learned how easily LGBT people could be fired from their jobs just for being themselves, how they couldn’t serve their country openly, couldn’t marry, couldn’t adopt kids in some states. And most of all, we learned about the fear so many otherwise good people had in their hearts about their gay neighbors, coworkers and family members.

She went on to say that her family “decided to try to make a difference in his name.” The Matthew Shepard Foundation was created to stand up for the LGBT community in Matthew’s memory.

In October 2014 The Guardian published claims that the murder of Shepard was related to drugs and was not a gay hate crime.



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