man clings to life after attack
LARAMIE, Wyo., Oct. 11 —
A gay college student was clinging to life Sunday as residents — gay and
straight — condemned his brutal beating but defended Wyoming as a safe,
fair-minded place to live. Matthew Shepard was found savagely pistol-whipped
and tied to a fence outside town last week. Police have said robbery was
the main motive, but the two men accused in the bludgeoning also targeted
Shepard because he flirted with one of them at a bar, The Denver Post reported
SHEPARD, 21, WAS unconscious
Sunday at a Fort Collins, Colo., hospital in critical condition with severe
head injuries. Hospital officials said his condition had deteriorated since
the midweek beating.
Russell Arthur Henderson, 21,
and Aaron James McKinney, 22, were charged with attempted murder, kidnapping
and aggravated robbery because Shepard’s wallet and patent leather shoes
were stolen. Police said they lured Shepard from a University of Wyoming
hangout by telling him they were gay.
Two women who allegedly helped
the two men dump their bloody clothing reported them to police, reportedly
telling police the men made anti-gay remarks. Chastity Vera Pasley, 20,
and Kristen Leann Price, 18, were charged with being accessories after
The two men never set out to nearly
kill Shepard, but McKinney was embarrassed that Shepard flirted with him
in front of his friends, Price and McKinney’s father told the Denver newspaper.
Price admitted she and Pasley
initially lied to police about the whereabouts of their boyfriends Tuesday
night, but said none of the four hate gays.
“It wasn’t meant to be a hate
crime,” she said. “They just wanted to rob him.”
The elder McKinney said there’s
no excuse for the crime, but that the media had blown the story out of
“Had this been a heterosexual
these two boys decided to take out and rob, this never would have made
the national news,” he told the Post. “Now my son is guilty before he’s
even had a trial.”
VICTIM’S PARENTS DEFEND TOWN
Shepard’s parents said in a statement
Saturday that if their son could speak, he would “emphasize he does not
want the horrible actions of a few very disturbed individuals to mar the
fine reputations of Laramie or the university.”
“He is a trusting person who takes
everyone at face value and does not see the bad side of anyone,” the statement
said. “His one intolerance is when people don’t accept others as they are.”
A close friend, Alex Trout, was
surprised Shepard was targeted for attack because of his sexual preference,
as police believe. Trout said his own homosexuality has never caused a
problem in his four years in Laramie, a Western-tinged college town with
a population of 27,000.
“In a sense (Wyoming) is ‘red
neck,’ but it’s not so bad (that) gays can’t live here,” Trout said.
“Most of Wyoming has an attitude
of live and let live,” said Joe Corrigan, cofounder of United Gays and
Lesbians of Wyoming.
Residents of what is nicknamed
the Equality State agreed.
Heather Dunmire, a 20-year-old
student who knew the two accused men, said the state doesn’t deal with
homosexuality as much as other areas, “but I don’t think we’re completely
in the back woods.”
“Wyoming should not be judged
on these four jerks that did this,” add Dunmire, who grew up in Rock River,
35 miles northwest of Laramie.
“I think it was a handful of individuals
that can be found anywhere that did this,” said Jeff Scott, 38, a 21-year
Laramie resident. “It doesn’t have to do anything with the state or a city
or anything else.”
The beating of the 5-foot-2, 105-pound Shepard came just before National
Coming Out Day, which was Sunday, and on the heels of an advertising campaign
by so-called family values groups urging gays to renounce homosexuality.
“I hope this is a wake-up call,”
said Terry Summers of Lambda Community Center, a Fort Collins, Colo.-based
gay rights group, who joined fellow activists nationwide in calling for
Shepard, who left Wyoming as a
teen to finish high school in Switzerland, overcame worries about coming
back to attend the University of Wyoming.
“He had a lot of the same fears
other people have coming into a small community,” said Walt Boulden, a
graduate student. “When he left Wyoming he had just started dealing with
being gay. So he was very concerned about the attitudes when he first came
“But he really felt at home and
comfortable here. He felt this was the place to be right now.”
© 1998 Associated Press.
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