A Sad & Senseless Way to Die

Pumpkins, corn stalks, and scarecrows are common autumn and Halloween decorations this time of the year.  Fourteen years ago this afternoon, a passing cyclist saw what he thought was a scarecrow on this Laramie, Wyoming fence.

It wasn’t a scarecrow.  It was the frail, comatose body of 21-year-old University of  Wyoming student Matthew Shepard.

Matthew had been robbed, pistol-whipped, tied to the fence for 18 hours, and left to die in 30° Wyoming weather.  When he was found, he had fractures to the back of his head and to the front of his right ear.  Matthew had brain stem damage so severe that doctors could not operate.  He had a dozen or so cuts on his head, face, and neck.

Matthew never regained consciousness and was on full life support for days until he died in the early morning hours of October 12, 1998.

On the evening of October 6, 1998, Matthew was at the Fireside Lounge in Laramie, Wyoming, when he met Aaron McKinney (right) and Russell Henderson (left).

While drinking that evening, the two men came up with a plan to give Matthew a ride home and rob him.  Kristen Price, girlfriend of McKinney, later testified that Henderson and McKinney “pretended they were gay to get [Shepard] in the truck and rob him.”

In the trial, the two men claimed that Matthew came on to them and they panicked and that’s when the crime moved from robbery to homicide.  Media reports claim that Matthew was beaten so severely that when he was found, his face was covered in blood except where his tears partially washed away the blood.

Henderson (above) pleaded guilty in April 1999 and agreed to testify against McKinney to avoid the death penalty.  He is now serving two consecutive life sentences.

McKinney was found guilty by a jury of felony murder.  While the jury was deliberating the death penalty, Matthew’s parents negotiated a deal that would keep him from being put to death.  In return, he would serve two consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole.

Matthew’s parents, Dennis and Judy Shepard, have worked tirelessly to bring “hate crimes” front and center in America.  In December 1998, they established the “Matthew Shepard Foundation” that supports diversity and tolerance in youth organizations.

Three years ago this month, President Barack Obama signed “The Matthew Shepard Act” into law, which added crimes motivated by the victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability to the 1969 United States federal hate-crime law.

Today, tomorrow, the next day, and every day after that, my heart goes out to Judy and Dennis Shepard and every parent that has watched their son or daughter die at the hands of some ignorant person or persons that were not man or woman enough to love their fellow-man or leave them well enough alone.

Matthew, on December 1, 2012, you should have been celebrating your 36th birthday.  You should have had a chance to love and be in love, to be a parent, or to be anything you wanted to be.

I’m so sorry that the last thing you saw before you slipped into a coma was the darkness around Laramie, Wyoming that night or the sun rising that morning tied to a fence and left for dead.

Your courage to be you may have cost you your life, but you will not be forgotten and I’ll do whatever I can to make sure you’re not forgotten.


12 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Cinchy on October 7, 2012 at 9:38 am

    Very sad and senseless.


  2. Posted by Becky on October 7, 2012 at 3:13 pm

    I am so sorry for your loss! I will sure share this message as I am one who believes we are all God’s children, therefore we should all Love one another as a brother or sister. We were not put on this earth to Judge. Let he without sin cast the first stone said our Jesus and that is how I try to live! Thank you for the courage to share your story and make a difference.


    • Becky,

      I did not know Matthew personally. But, it could just have easily happened to me or one of my friends.

      I hope one day to meet his mother, Judy, and thank her for her courage in the fight to make sure this doesn’t happen to someone’s child.

      Take care and thank you for sharing the message.



  3. Posted by Tammy Ridpath on October 7, 2012 at 7:00 pm

    Remembering with a heavy heart. What a tragedy. :”'(


  4. Posted by Lori on October 7, 2012 at 7:24 pm

    So very horrible! Makes me sick to hear this! So sorry for your loss and thank you for the courage!


  5. Anthony~I think of this young man so often. A beautiful life cut so short by the ugliness of hate. I pray everyday for some peace….peace from all the discord in this world….I pray for LOVE to be in the hearts of those who are so judgmental that hate rules their life. I have much admiration for Matthew’s parents~the courage it takes to LIVE their lives NOT with the pain of their son’s death, but with the LOVE & PRIDE of their son’s LIFE. Thank you, Anthony, for keeping Matthew’s memory alive. I pray that people will see in and through you, that you are just like they are….a man with a wonderful life, who loves his true love, works, plays, reads, teaches, and LIVES….that also hurts, cries, bleeds and puts his pants on just like everybody else!!!! I am so proud to call you my friend, dear Anthony, and send you much love and many hugs ❤ Tami


    • Tami,

      Thank you for keeping his alive in your heart and I hope that his family has found some peace and focus on the wonderful memories of his life.

      I will definitely keep reminding people to think of this beautiful young man.

      Take care, my friend.



  6. Posted by susan c meador on October 7, 2013 at 5:33 am

    S Very Sad n So Very Senseless….Hugs to his family as time would never heal their pain…..still makes us cry.hope those guys never get outta jail n that’s even too good for them.


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