Matthew Shepard, an openly-gay Wyoming college student who was murdered at the age of 21, will be honored with a plaque at the Washington National Cathedral on Tuesday to mark his final resting place.
The ceremony is taking place a day after what would be Shepard’s 43rd birthday. His brutal killing sparked a civil rights movement across the United States for the LGBTQ community at the time.
On October 6, 1998, Shepard, who was attending the University of Wyoming, went to a dive bar in Laramie, Wyoming. He was approached by Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, two roofing workers in their early 20s. The pair offered to give Shepard a ride home and three men left the bar. He never made it home.
He was found by a cyclist 18 hours later, tied to a fence near Larami, covered in blood, beaten, tortured, and left to die. Shepard lost his life at the Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado, six days after the attack.
Each of the assailants received two consecutive life sentences. The girlfriend of McKinney first testified that he had acted with an anti-gay motivation, but she later changed her statement, saying that she had lied thinking it would be in her boyfriend’s favor. She later said that both men had pretended they were gay to get him in the truck and rob him.
McKinney and Henderson also testified that they had intended to rob Shepard’s home, as well, and that they learned of his address.
After his death, Shepard’s family founded the Matthew Shepard Foundation to support LGBTQ youth.
Speaking at the plaque dedication ceremony on Monday, his mother, Judy Shepard, said it was time for the family to move forward. “We need to do this for Matt. This is what he would want. We need to stop reflecting on what happened to Matt. We don’t need to stop trying to stop it from happening again.”
The plaque will indicate Shepard’s final resting place in the Washington National Cathedral, where his ashes were placed last year.
“It woke America up, and mostly it woke up our quiet and silent allies. It was a turning point,” Gene Robinson, the Episcopal church’s first openly gay-bishop, was quoted as saying about the tragic death.
Shepard was named earlier this year one of the inaugural 50 American “pioneers, trailblazers, and heroes” inducted on the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor at the Stonewall National Monument (SNM) in New York City’s Stonewall Inn.