IN A STEADY rain outside City
Hall just hours before a funeral service for his son, Dennis Shepard thanked
those who have sent supportive messages to the family and asked the public
to respect the Shepards’ privacy.
“We should try to remember that because Matt’s last few minutes of consciousness on Earth might have been hell, his family and friends want more than ever to say their farewells to him in a peaceful, dignified and loving manner,” he said.
SON DIED MONDAY
As Shepard spoke, his wife, Judy, stood behind him, weeping.
Matthew Shepard, 21, died Monday at a Colorado hospital, five days after being found pistol-whipped and tied to a fence in near-freezing temperatures outside Laramie. Two 21-year-old men have been charged with murder.
Police said robbery was the primary motive but that Shepard also was singled out because he was gay.
Dennis Shepard said his son was the kind of person who would have swiftly helped if he had come upon a scene such as the one he endured as a victim.
“If this had happened to another person, he would have been the first on the scene to offer his help, his hope, his heart, to the family,” Shepard said.
Shepard said the family and the hospital where Matthew died have been swamped by cards, letters and e-mails offering support and help. The killing has drawn nationwide attention, including President Clinton’s call for Congress to pass legislation making it easier for federal prosecution of hate crimes.
Several hours before Shepard’s funeral at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, more than a dozen adults and children staged an anti-gay demonstration across the street. In a rain sometimes dotted with snow, they carried signs such as “Fear God Not Fags” and yelled anti-gay slogans.
“I came to spread some truth in this orgy of lies,” said James Hockenbarger of Topeka, Kan. Hockenbarger, 21, was among nine people to come with the Topeka-based Westboro Baptist Church, which regularly engages in anti-homosexual picketing. There also were seven protesters from a Texas group.
Occasionally, passers-by stopped to challenge them.
“This isn’t what Jesus Christ would do. This isn’t what Christians do. They don’t condemn people,” said David Anderson, 44, of Casper. “This just upsets me. This whole circus upsets me.”
The Casper City Council had voted late Thursday to ban protesters from coming within 50 feet of the church during the funeral, hoping to prevent a spectacle and take pressure off mourners.
“It’s sad that we have to do this — that the sanctity of a funeral is not upheld,” Councilman Tim Monroe said.
Police used bomb-sniffing dogs to make sure St. Mark’s was safe, Mayor Ed Opella said.
President Clinton sent two representatives to the funeral: Togo West, the secretary of veterans affairs, and Sean Maloney, deputy staff secretary at the White House. Maloney is the highest-ranking openly homosexual man on staff at the White House, according to deputy press secretary Amy Weiss.
© 1998 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
CASPER, Wyo., Oct. 16 (UPI) Police estimate as many as
2,000 people have turned out to memorialize Matthew Shepard,
the gay Wyoming student savagely beaten, lashed to a wooden
fence and left for dead.
As a cold drizzle turned to snow, mourners gathered today at St.
Mark's Episcopal Church for an event that has drawn more
people to the city of 47,000 than ever. Streets around the church
were blocked off.
Under a brand-new city ordinance, anti-gay protesters have been
forced to keep themselves inside a cordoned-off area in a park
cross the street from the church.
An emergency measure passed by the city council late Thursday
requires protesters to stay at least 50 feet away from the church.
But why disrupt a funeral?
One of the protesters, Rev. W.N. Otwell of Heritage Baptist
Church in Mount Enterprise, Texas, says, "There's a lot of people
in America that's sick and tired of them trying to cram the Barney
Franks and others down our throats in this country and say that
sodomy is alright. It's not alright."
Westboro Baptist Church member Rachel Hockenbarger told
UPI, "It's not okay to be gay. These people who are practicing
these lifestyles need to know that God hates fags, and that they
need to repent or they're going to perish.
"That preacher preaching the funeral today is not going to be
telling them the truth."
In a statement to reporters, Shepard's father, Dennis Shepard,
said, "On behalf of our son, we want to thank the people of the
United States and the world who have expressed their deepest
sympathy and condolences to our family during these trying
Shepard was found barely alive on Oct. 7, about 18 hours after
Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson allegedly
pistol-whipped and tied him to a fence about a mile outside
The bicyclist who discovered him first thought he was looking at a
scarecrow. Shepard died nearly six days later at Poudre Valley
Hospital in Fort Collins, Colo.
McKinney and Henderson are charged with first-degree murder
and if convicted may be sentenced to die. Prosecutors say they
will not decide for several weeks whether to seek the death
The slaying touched off outrage from Shepard's home state to
Washington, D.C., where Congress passed a resolution Thursday
denouncing the crime and demanding the perpetrators "be swiftly
brought to justice."
Rep. Barbara Cubin, R-Wyo., took to the floor of the House to
condemn the murder, saying her sons, Bill and Eric, knew
Shepard. "Our country must come together to condemn these
types of brutal, nonsensical acts of violence."