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October 6, 1998: Remembering The Heartbreaking Murder of Matthew Shepard

21 years ago this night, 21-year-old Matthew Shepard met Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson for the first time at the Fireside Lounge in Laramie, Wyoming and became the victim of one of the most brutal and heinous anti-gay hate crimes in history.

McKinney and Henderson said that they would give Matthew a ride home but instead  they drove him to a remote rural area and proceeded to rob, pistol-whip, and torture Matthew, tying him to a fence and leaving him to die. Matthew hung there all night in the freezing, in pain and alone until he was discovered 18 hours later by Aaron Kreifels, a cyclist who initially mistook Shepard for a scarecrow.  Matthew was still alive but by that time has slipped into in a coma.

Matthew suffered fractures to the back of his head and in front of his right ear. He experienced severe brainstem damage, which affected his body’s ability to regulate heart rate, body temperature, and other vital functions and there  were about a dozen small lacerations around his head, face, and neck. His injuries were so severe that doctors could not operate.

Matthew was pronounced dead at 12:53 a.m. on October 12, 1998.

Both McKinney and Henderson were convicted of the murder, and each received two consecutive life sentences.

What happened to Matthew angered both America and the world. His senseless murder garnered immense media attention that brought forth and shone a light on the bigotry and hated that LGBT individuals endure

The life and death of Matthew Shepard changed the way we talk about, and deal with, hate in America. Since his death, Matt’s legacy has challenged and inspired millions of individuals to erase hate in all its forms. Although Matt’s life was short, his story continues to have a great impact on young and old alike.  His legacy lives on in thousands of people like you who actively try to eradicate the hatred from those who preach against us and fight to replace it with understanding, compassion and acceptance.

On October 2009, the United States Congress passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (commonly the “Matthew Shepard Act” or “Shepard/Byrd Act” for short), and on October 28, 2009, President Barack Obama signed the legislation into law

Rest well sweet Matthew. We shall never forget.

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Will Kohler

Will Kohler is one of America's best known LGBT historians, He is also a a accredited journalist and the owner of Back2Stonewall.com. A longtime gay activist Will fought on the front lines of the AIDS epidemic with ACT-UP and continues fighting today for LGBT acceptance and full equality. Will’s work has been referenced on such notable media venues as BBC News, CNN, MSNBC, The Washington Post, The Daily Wall Street Journal, Hollywood Reporter, and Raw Story. Back2Stonewall has been recently added to the Library of Congress' LGBTQ+ Studies Web Archive. Mr. Kohler is available for comment, interviews and lectures on LGBT History. Contact: Will@Back2Stonewall.com

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5 thoughts on “October 6, 1998: Remembering The Heartbreaking Murder of Matthew Shepard”

    1. Is that the one that tries to smear him as a drug dealer, even though no drugs were found in his apartment, and only a small amount of marijuana and alcohol was found in his system from the autopsy?

      McKinney’s initial motive was robbery. But he targeted Shepard, he said, because “he was obviously gay. That played a part. His weakness. His frailty.”

      “Matt Shepard needed killing.”

      “As far as Matt is concerned, I don’t have any remorse.”

      “The night I did it, I did have hatred for homosexuals.”

      I used to live in Laramie. My brother knew those guys.

      -Aaron McKinney, 2009.

  1. Sickening…. Even today it still hurts to think of him on that fence. I saw his Mom speak…what a courageous woman after her son was murdered…May memories of him bring her peace…

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