Wyoming student dies from beating

Matthew Shepard 1976 - 1998

THIS IS A COPY OF THE STORY THAT APPEARED IN MONDAYS (OCT.12, 1998) DENVER POST

By Coleman Cornelius
Denver Post Staff Writer

Oct. 12 - FORT COLLINS - Five days after his skull was smashed with a gun butt and he was left to die on a rough-hewn fence, Matthew Shepard died early Monday in a hospital room surrounded by his family. Shepard's heart failed at 12:53 a.m. as he lay comatose and on life support at Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, said Rulon Stacey, hospital president.
    Before the savage attack in Laramie that ultimately killed Shepard, the University of Wyoming student's last words to his parents had been, "I love you," Stacey said during an emotional news conference at 4:30 a.m. Shepard's mother, Judy, said after her 21-year-old son's death: "Go home, give your kids a hug and don't let a day go by without telling them you love them."
    The nation's attention has focused on Shepard and on the ruthless assault that many people - from gay-rights advocates to President Clinton - have called a hate crime motivated by the victim's homosexuality. Shortly after his death, it was clear that Shepard's case would be increasingly politicized: Before sunrise, the governor of Wyoming and gay activists, among others, were scheduling news conferences to debate the need for hate-crime laws.
    But above all, the early-morning death has deepened a widespread sense of grief, anger and disbelief over a ruthless attack on a diminutive college student widely described as an open and loving person who wanted to dedicate his life to the fight for human rights, friends and hospital spokesmen said. Shepard's chances of survival were dim after he was beaten and lashed to the fence for up to 18 hours in temperatures that dropped into the 30s. But doctors worked to keep Shepard alive throughout his time at the Fort Collins hospital, Stacey said.
    "The family expressed gratitude that they did not have to make a decision about removing life support. They said that like the good son he was, he removed from them the guilt and stress of making that decision," Stacey said with tears in his eyes.  Shepard's skull was so badly crushed that his brain stem was seriously damaged, meaning 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, Stacey said.  Doctors used a ventilator to keep Shepard breathing, and they inserted a tube in his throat to keep his airway open, Stacey said.  But even with these measures, Shepard's blood pressure began to dive at about midnight.   "He fought it off for five days and then, with the trauma of everything, he just died," Stacey said.

Authorities in Laramie are expected today to upgrade to first-degree murder the charges against two suspects held in custody under suicide watch.  The accused assailants are Aaron McKinney, 22, and Russell Henderson, 21, of Laramie; they were charged last week with first-degree attempted murder. Their girlfriends, Chastity Pasley, 20, and Kristen Price, 18, were charged as accessories in the case.
    Meantime, expressions of support from every continent continue to flow into the hospital. Poudre Valley Hospital has received thousands of e-mail messages at a site set up for the Shepard family. Through Shepard's stay, staff regularly provided information about his condition on the hospital Web site, which has received heavy traffic through the weekend, Stacey said.  The family is finalizing memorial plans; more information is expected today.
    People may send donations to the Matthew Shepard Memorial Fund, First National Bank, P.O. Box 578, Fort Collins, Colo., 80522, Account No. 1926083. The money donated will be used for causes that Shepard believed in, his family said.

 

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