Fourteen years ago today, Matthew Shepard died.
For those of you who do not remember, Matthew was an average young man, practically a kid, attending college at the University of Wyoming. On the night of October 6, two young men from Laramie, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, lured Matthew from a local dive bar to their pick-up truck, drove Matthew to a remote location outside of town, removed his shoes, tied him to a post and beat him into unconsciousness. Matthew was found the 18 hours later by a cyclist who at first mistook him for a scarecrow. It was only when Matthew’s chest raised and lowered as he struggled to breathe that the cyclist realized that this was a human being. He was covered in dried blood… except for two lines down his face, where tears had washed the sanguine matter away.
Matthew was transferred to Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado. At 12:53 a.m. on October 12, 1998, he passed away. He never regained consciousness.
Matthew was 21 years of age.
I’ll never comprehend what drove McKinney and Henderson to commit such a nihilistic and brutal act. They claimed gay panic – Matthew was a known homosexual, and they argued that he made sexual advances. That defense was discounted by multiple witnesses.
I think one simple emotion determined poor Matthew’s fate. Hate.
Hatred is not a natural emotion. Children are not born with the capacity to hate. Hatred is something that is taught and learned.
I’m thinking about that night – and Matthew. How cold he must have been. The pain – he had more than 18 skull fractures. How alone he was. How afraid. I wonder what he thought before he fell into coma. I’m fairly certain he knew he was going to die.
I’m going to think a lot about Matthew today. I’m going to think about those that hate. I won’t hate them back.
I have someone in my life who takes every opportunity she is presented with to tell me how much she hates me. Hates my guts, hates my life, finds me worthless, stupid, selfish, dumb.
I’m wishing her the same reply that I have always given, and always will: I love you. Please get the help that you need.
So today, it’s off to watch THE LARAMIE PROJECT by Moises Kaufman and the Tectonic Theatre Project, in memory of all that Matthew was… and in celebration of how his death has helped to transform us into a better iteration of our selves.
* Post note – you can watch the HBO adaptation of the play on YouTube. It’s in parts… but well worth it.
Teach your children well. When in doubt, hug them. You can never tell them you love them too often.
And never, ever teach them the word “hate.”
Now, go write.
HRH, Princess Scribe