A Night of Terror

What Happened the Night Matt Shepard Was Killed
Wednesday, October 14, 1998

(This is an unedited, uncorrected transcript.)

DIANE SAWYER, ABCNEWS Good evening, and welcome to 20/20 Wednesday. Matthew Shepard will be buried this Friday. He is the gentle young man from Wyoming who was savagely beaten, tied to a fence and left to die. And the government says on average every week in America, two dozen people are physically attacked because they are gay. And yet, this one young man has become a symbol of what can happen with unacknowledged cruelty and prejudice.

SAM DONALDSON, ABCNEWS What really happened on that terrifying night? How did a chance meeting in a crowded bar result in such a horrible crime? John Quinones sought out key witnesses, and even a woman charged as an accessory after the fact, to reconstruct the last few days of Matthew Shepard’s life and its tragic end.

JOHN QUINONES, ABCNEWS (VO) Some say what happened at this fence post in the cold and barren foothills of the Rockies was a hate crime. Others try to pass it off as just a robbery. The one thing that’s clear is that what happened to Matthew Shepard was horribly brutal.

WALT BOULDEN, MATTHEW’S FRIEND These people took him out and tortured him and hung him on a fence and battered his head in.

KRISTEN PRICE, AARON MCKINNEY’S GIRLFRIEND He said it was not intended on a murder. They did not intend to hurt him this badly.

JOHN QUINONES (VO) Kristen Price, who asked us not to show her face, is the girlfriend of one of the two men accused in the beating.

KRISTEN PRICE They just wanted to beat him up bad enough to teach him a lesson. Not to come on to straight people and don’t be aggressive about it anymore. Once a person tells you that they’re straight, leave them alone.

JOHN QUINONES (VO) It happened in the western town of Laramie, Wyoming, the kind of place where it’s OK to be gay, as long as you keep it quiet.

WALT BOULDEN The epitome of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

JOHN QUINONES (VO) Walt Boulden is one of Laramie’s gay residents.

WALT BOULDEN You would never go anywhere in Wyoming and hold hands. You would never go on a dance floor and dance with your partner. You would be careful how you walked.

JOHN QUINONES (VO) Walt Boulden was a professor at the University of Wyoming and Matthew’s mentor, his friend of six years and the first person that Matthew told he was gay.

WALT BOULDEN To me, it was an incredible honor. I mean, it is such a risky thing to do. I took it as one of the biggest compliments I’ve ever had in my life. I mean, he was a very vibrant, personable person. But in a lot of ways, he was also a very private person. So he really had to have a sense that you were somebody he could talk to before he would reveal that kind of thing.

JOHN QUINONES (VO) Although Matthew was born in Casper, Wyoming, with his family he traveled the world—going to high school in Switzerland, starting college on the East Coast. But last fall, he decided it was time to come home again to the University of Wyoming in Laramie.

WALT BOULDEN He liked it here. He talked about how comfortable it was and that this really was him, I mean the—that small town. You walk around town, and people meet you eye—to—eye. And they smile at you, and he loved that. And he talked about how safe he felt here.

JOHN QUINONES (VO) Last Tuesday, Walt and Matthew planned to go out together.

WALT BOULDEN Actually, Tuesday was my birthday. And we were going to go to a movie together. And he called, and he had—he had gotten behind in his French. And he had to go to class the next day, so he was going to study.

JOHN QUINONES (on camera) But later that night at around 10:00, Matthew decided to go out for a drink. There are no gay bars in Laramie. In fact, there are none in the entire state of Wyoming. So he decided to drop by the Fireside Lounge, one of the few bars in town where a gay man can feel comfortable alone.

MATT GALLOWAY, BARTENDER He came up—in fact, I remember he ordered a Heineken. I can distinctly remember what he ordered.

JOHN QUINONES (VO) Matt Galloway, the bartender at the Fireside that night, had seen Matthew before and was impressed by him.

MATT GALLOWAY My first word would be kind, polite. Very few people do you find in a bar that say, “please,” say “thank you” religiously. Matthew did that.

JOHN QUINONES (VO) Galloway says Matthew had been in the bar about an hour when two strangers walked in, Russ Henderson and Aaron McKinney. It was around midnight.

MATT GALLOWAY The reason I distinctly remember these individuals is because they came in and ordered a pitcher of beer and proceeded dig in their pockets and pour out a bunch of change on the bar to pay for a pitcher of beer, which I found, you know, somewhat peculiar. Obviously, you know, they were strapped for some cash at this point in time.

JOHN QUINONES (VO) It wasn’t long, he says, before they struck up a conversation with Matthew. Kristen says McKinney told her that it was Matthew who approached him first.

KRISTEN PRICE He said that a guy walked up to him and said that he was gay and wanted to get with Aaron and Russ. And that he got aggravated with him and told him that he was straight and didn’t want anything to do with him, and he walked off.

WALT BOULDEN There is no way, absolutely no way that that happened that way. That just was not Matt. He absolutely was not like that.

JOHN QUINONES (VO) In fact, Walt says police told him it was the two suspects who first approached Matthew, telling him they were gay.

WALT BOULDEN And somewhere in the conversation Matt indicated he was gay. And knowing Matt, he would have had to have felt real safe with these people. So somewhere in the conversation, they presented themselves in a way that he felt really safe.

KRISTEN PRICE And Aaron and Russ said that, “Let’s pretend like we’re gay, and we can—we’ll rob him and take his money.” So they told him that he was gay—that they were both gay. And, “let’s go back to Aaron’s place and all get to know each other better.”

JOHN QUINONES (VO) The last thing bartender Matt Galloway remembers is Matthew and the two men leaving together. No one had any idea where they were headed.

SAM DONALDSON Matthew Shepard could not have known the cruelty and horror that awaited him during the next few hours. We’ll continue with our story in a moment.

(Commercial Break)

DIANE SAWYER We continue now with the story behind the headlines of a young man’s murder, a gay college student who spent an evening at a local bar and thought he had met two new friends. But a night of unimaginable horror lay ahead. Here again is John Quinones.

JOHN QUINONES (VO) It was shortly after midnight, early Wednesday morning. Aaron McKinney and Russ Henderson were leaving the Fireside bar with a new acquaintance, Matthew Shepard. McKinney’s girlfriend ...

KRISTEN PRICE So the guy got in the truck with him, and they drove on past Wal—Mart. And he—Matthew said, “Well, where’s your house at?” And he said, “Well, guess what? I’m not gay, and you just got jacked. Give me your wallet.” And he gave him his wallet.

JOHN QUINONES (VO) No one knows what went through Matthew’s mind as he was driven out of town and into the hills. Police say the suspects headed down this bumpy road, beating Matthew along the way, finally stopped at the end of the road and this wooden fence.

KRISTEN PRICE He said that Russ tied him up to the pole and that they took the butt of the gun and they beat him with it in the head and left him there.

JOHN QUINONES (VO) Matthew was left for dead in the cold Wyoming night. Temperatures were in the 30s. By sunrise, he was slipping into a coma.

DET. ROB DEBREE, ALBANY COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT He was found bound to this post in this area right here.

JOHN QUINONES (on camera) He was tied, what part—his hands were tied behind him?

ROB DEBREE That’s correct.

JOHN QUINONES (VO) Rob Debree and Jeff Bury are the chief investigators on the case. (on camera) What can you tell us about the shape the victim was in?

ROB DEBREE Critical. Massive head injuries. It was obvious immediately to the deputy that arrived on scene that it was a massive assault.

WALT BOULDEN These people took him out and tortured him and battered his head in. They tied him up on a fence like some kind of trophy. I mean, like, “Here he is, this is what we’ve done.”

JOHN QUINONES Matthew remained here, tied to this fence for 18 hours, alone and bleeding extensively. It wasn’t until 6:30 the next evening that he was finally discovered, quite by accident. A young man who had been riding his mountain bike in the area slipped and fell at the end of the fence. As he got up, he spotted what he thought was a scarecrow. In fact, it was Matthew, by now unconscious. (VO) He was taken by ambulance to Ivinson (ph) Memorial Hospital in Laramie. By now, suspect Aaron McKinney had returned home.

KRISTEN PRICE He was crying, and he was throwing up. And he kept on telling me he didn’t deserve to live. He didn’t deserve to be talking to me. And he just came in and hugged me and was like, “I’ve done something horrible. I just deserve to die.”
And I asked him what had happened. And he told me he wasn’t exactly sure, he just had thought maybe he had killed someone.

JOHN QUINONES (VO) Later that day, Aaron McKinney and Russ Henderson were arrested. Their girlfriends, Chastity Pasley and Kristen Price, the woman who spoke to us, were charged as accessories. Police say they concocted alibis and concealed evidence. From the streets of Laramie to the White House, this savage beating was called nothing less than a crime of hatred.

KRISTEN PRICE I don’t think it’s a hate crime. I mean, maybe that’s what everybody is pushing it on to, but I don’t think it’s a hate crime. I don’t think that—I mean, obviously, gay people are looked at differently. I mean, everywhere in the United States, they are looked at differently.

WALT BOULDEN I know in the core of my heart it happened because he revealed he was gay. And it’s chilling, and it’s not only chilling as a gay man, I think it should be chilling as any person. Because Matt was the boy next door, he could have been anybody’s son.

JOHN QUINONES (VO) And if it wasn’t a hate crime, why such a savage beating?

KRISTEN PRICE Humiliation, maybe. Because they both, Aaron and Russ, both had friends at the bar. And I guess, it’s known well that Matthew is gay and then being seen talking to a gay man and leaving with a gay guy—- humiliation.

JOHN QUINONES (VO) Whatever the motive for the beating, Matthew laid in this hospital in a coma for five days, unable to tell anyone what happened.

WALT BOULDEN When I was actually able to see him, if they had asked me to go in that room and identify him, I couldn’t have found him. He was so savagely beaten, he didn’t look at all like Matt.

JOHN QUINONES (VO) While he lay unconscious, Matthew’s parents wrestled with the decision about whether to take him off life support. They were spared that agonizing choice when, on Sunday night, with his parents at his side, Matthew slipped away. His family issued a statement.

RULON STACEY, HOSPITAL SPOKESMAN Matthew’s mother said to me, “Please, tell everybody who is listening to go home, give your kids a hug and don’t let a day go by without telling them that you love them.”

JOHN QUINONES (VO) The news of Matthew’s death touched the nation. There were memorial services in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco. But nowhere were people brought together like they were in this little corner of Wyoming. (on camera) What does that tell you about Laramie?

MATT GALLOWAY That it’s not the rednecks that everybody thinks it is. It’s not this place where people aren’t welcome that are minorities, that have different sexual preferences. It’s not like that.

JOHN QUINONES (VO) Matthew Shepard would have been proud.

WALT BOULDEN I think he would be as touched as all of the rest of us. I feel graced by God that I got to spend as much of my life with him as I did and that he was as big a part of my life as he was. And I don’t care how savage these people are, they can never, ever take that away. And they can’t take that away from all the people he touched.

SAM DONALDSON Since the death Monday morning of Matthew Shepard, the charges against Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson have been upgraded to first—degree murder. If convicted, both could face the death penalty.
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