A Hate Crime: Left For Dead In Laramie

~ Sam McCarthy ~


On October 6th  1998 Matthew Shepard was beaten, his skull  smashed with the butt of a gun and he was tied to a rough-hewn fence in the outskirts of Laramie, Wyoming. His chances of survival were dim after being left for 18 hours in temperatures that dropped into the 30s, but doctors worked to keep Shepard alive at the Fort Collins hospital.

Shepard’s skull was so badly crushed, his brain stem was seriously damaged – vital functions including his heartbeat, breathing and temperature control were critically impaired. Hospital staff worked diligently to help their unresponsive patient by inserting in his skull a drain to reduce the pressure caused by his swollen brain.  Doctors used a ventilator to keep Shepard breathing, and they inserted a tube in his throat to keep his airway open.  Even with these measures, Shepard’s blood pressure began to dive at about midnight.

Patrol Officer Reggie Fluty described that when she found Shepard’s body, his hands were bound behind his back so tightly to a buck fence that it was difficult to cut him free. Her only duty at the time was not to gather evidence but to assist Shepard. Fluty tried to cut the ropes from Shepard’s hands and when she bent him over he stopped breathing so she turned him back over. “His hands were tied tight and I wanted to free him.” And though his face was caked with blood, it was clean where streaks of tears had washed the blood away. “The only white skin I saw (on his face) was where he had been crying.” On October 26, 1999, Fluty testified that trying to comfort Shepard while waiting for the ambulance she told him “Baby boy, I’m so sorry this happened to you.”

Five days after the ordeal, Matthew Shepard died in a hospital surrounded by his family. Shepard’s heart failed at 12:53 a.m. on Monday as he lay comatose on life support at Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins.

His early-morning death deepened a widespread sense of grief, anger and disbelief over a ruthless attack on a college student widely described as an open and loving person who wanted to dedicate his life to the fight for human rights. His torture and murder became a watershed historical moment in America that highlighted many of the fault lines in our culture.

The assailants were Aaron McKinney, 22, and Russell Henderson, 21; they were charged with first-degree attempted murder. Their girlfriends, Chastity Pasley, 20, and Kristen Price, 18, were charged as accessories in the case.

In the wake of the terrible events that took place in 1998, a boy died and a play, The Laramie Project  was born.  A month after the murder, the members of Tectonic Theater Project traveled to Laramie and conducted interviews with the people of the town. From these interviews they wrote the play.

10 years later, Moisés Kaufman and members of Tectonic Theater Project returned to Laramie to find out what has happened over the last 10 years.

On October 12, 2009, The Laramie Project Epilogue premiered in 100 cities across the country, performed simultaneously by High Schools, Universities, and Professional Regional Theaters. In New York City, The Laramie Project Epilogue was performed by the original casts of the play and film.


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