It’s no easy topic of conversation when a young life is lost; a light in the world dimmed too soon; it’s not something that people want to talk about. It’s even harder to bring up the loss of young person when the reason behind their death is cynical, cruel, and absolutely senseless.
This is the unfortunate truth that surrounds the death of Matt Shepard; a 21 year old student from Laramie, Wyoming who was beaten brutally and left for dead tied to a fence. The phrase itself is hard to type, harder to read, and impossible to fathom; who would do such a thing to someone just on the brink of adulthood, and more importantly, why?
The two men responsible for Matt Shepard’s murder, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, say the murder had to deal with drugs and money. They say Shepard looked like he came from money so the attack was random in nature and fueled by that and that alone. The community, however, and many outsiders and friends of Shepard believe the horrible murder was a hate-crime. Matt Shepard had recently come out as homosexual and a friend, Walt Boulden, gave an interview to 20/20 soon after the attack where he voiced his opinion behind the killers’ true motivation.
“I know in the core of my heart it happened because he revealed he was gay. And it’s chilling. They targeted him because he was gay.”
Soon after the murder, McKinney’s girlfriend told police that she believed the murder was because Aaron claimed that Matt tied to touch his leg in the truck. McKinney’s girlfriend even went as far as to say she thought people would go easier on her boyfriend if they thought it was a reaction to an unwanted sexual advance.
In what world are we living in that a “tolerable” reaction to an unwanted same-sex sexual advance is a violent beating death?
Today, Mckinney’s girlfriend has a different story and claims she never believed the crime was motivated by hate for homosexuality; just a wrong place wrong time situation for Matt Shepard.
Some police and other people revolved around the case questioned the true motive behind the crime as well but a general question remained even after the vicious murderers came forward years later and said it was not fueled by a hate. If this was truly just a beating to get money for more drugs, why did they attach Shepard so senselessly – why did he succumb to his injuries?
Some will argue that drug rage can fuel people to act beyond their usual means and strength, but you can’t deny that this looks like a lot more than that; especially when other factors were brought into play. It was told to detectives, by multiple sources, that Shepard and Mckinney weren’t strangers and had actually been seen at parties together which would make the motivation of their killing unfounded. If they knew each other they would have known Shepard wasn’t some random richly dressed up man.
Even former Laramie police Cmdr. Dave O’Malley believes the crime was a hate crime and not fueled by drugs or money.
“I really don’t think he was in a methamphetamine-induced rage when this happened. I don’t buy it at all,” O’Malley said. “I feel comfortable in my own heart that they did what they did to Matt because they had hatred toward him for being gay.”
The sad truth is, no amount of speculation on the reason behind his murder will bring Matt Shepard back, nor will it bring justice to the people who loved and cared for him. At the end of the day, in a seemingly hate filled crime against a man for his sexual preference – a young, bright life was cut short and the absence of his presence in the lives of those he touched will never be filled.
Shepard’s story was one that set to serve as an “example” for stricter legislation concerning hate-crimes and more general awareness of prejudice and how to teach love and acceptance instead of hate and intolerance. The story is one we’ve all heard, but perhaps never wanted to pay enough attention to; be it because it was a hard pill to swallow, because it was so painful to even think about, or because some of us saw people we loved, or ourselves, in Matt Shepard. In November of this year however, the story was given a platform to be heard, and heard it was.
Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine is a film that was released in efforts to change the minds and hearts of humanity, a true look into the story of Matt and the life he led, giving him a face and a persona beyond his tragic death. The film has received incredible reviews from people who say the honest telling of this story was overdue, but necessary, and that it deserves to be shown at schools world wide; it should be used to fight continued intolerance.
For this week, in honor of Matt’s 39th birthday, you can purchase a digital film version of Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine for $3.90 while the extra funds will be donated to The Matthew Shepard Foundation.
We at CelebMix recommend that you take the time to see this documentary and remember that the lives you hear about on television and in the media that are lost due to hate and intolerance are not just names; they’re people, they’re sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, wives, husbands…they are people who were loved deeply and missed forever. They’re people who had their lives taken away because someone else decided that something about them wasn’t fit for a standard of life…they had their futures taken because they dared to be who they were – and that isn’t something we should continue to have to live in fear of.
Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine won’t bring Matt back, but it may be the documentary, the story, and the reason that lives in the future are saved. It may open the heart and eyes of someone who was taught to be intolerant in their own lives, and it may give courage, in heartbreak, for someone to own their own truth and story – fearlessly.