Gay Student Dies From Beating

FORT COLLINS, Colo. (AP) -- A gay University of Wyoming student who was pistol-whipped and lashed to a fence post in an attack denounced nationwide as a hate crime died early today from his injuries.

Matthew Shepard, 21, died while on life support, said the head of Poudre Valley Hospital, Rulon Stacey. Shepard had been in a coma since bicyclists found him tethered to the post in near-freezing temperatures outside Laramie, Wyo., on Wednesday.

``The family was grateful they did not have to make a decision regarding whether or not to continue life support for their son,'' Stacey said. ``He came into the world premature and left the world premature and they are most grateful for the time they had to spend with Matthew.''

Police have said robbery was the primary motive for the attack. But gay rights groups and others assailed the beating and called on Wyoming legislators to adopt laws to deter crimes against homosexuals.

``We deal with any crime like this as a crime of hate,'' Gov. Jim Geringer said today. ``We're just as upset as anyone that this happened in our state.''

Before Shepard's death, Russell Arthur Henderson, 21, and Aaron James McKinney, 22, had been charged with attempted murder, kidnapping and aggravated robbery. Their girlfriends -- Chastity Vera Pasley, 20, and Kristen Leann Price, 18 -- were charged with being accessories after the fact.

McKinney's girlfriend, Ms. Price, and his father, Bill McKinney, told The Denver Post that the two men never set out to kill the 5-foot-2, 105-pound Shepard. Instead, they said the two wanted to get back at Shepard for making passes at McKinney in front of his friends Tuesday night in a campus bar.

``I guess they (the people in the bar) knew that Matt Shepard was gay and maybe it got around that Aaron was gay or something,'' Ms. Price said in a story published Sunday. ``Later on, Aaron did say he told him he was gay just to rob him, because he wanted to take his money for embarrassing him.''

The elder McKinney said there was no excuse for the crime but the story had been blown out of proportion.

``Had this been a heterosexual these two boys decided to take out and rob, this never would have made the national news,'' he told the Post. ``Now my son is guilty before he's even had a trial.''

Friends of Henderson and McKinney said they were surprised by the allegations.

``They were quiet,'' said Heather Dunmire, 20, of nearby Rock River. ``I wouldn't have expected them to do that. I never would expect another human to do that.''

Stephanie Lake, 20, was a student at Laramie High School with Henderson, McKinney and Ms. Pasley. She attended a biology class with Henderson.

``Russ was a really, really quiet guy who really kept to himself a lot,'' she said.

Henderson and Ms. Pasley live in a rural, windswept trailer park amid weeds, engine parts, fishing tackle and barking dogs. A neighbor, John Gillham, 21, said the couple generally kept to themselves.

About a thousand people attended a candlelight vigil Sunday night near the University of Wyoming campus to show their support for Shepard.

``We are saddened, heartsick,'' said the university's president, Philip Dubois. ``All of us I would imagine are haunted by the thought of a terribly battered young man with his future erased.

``It is almost as sad to see individuals and groups around this country react to this event by stereotyping an entire community, if not an entire state.''

Shepard's parents said in a statement released before his death that he would ``emphasize he does not want the horrible actions of a few very disturbed individuals to mar the fine reputations of Laramie or the university.''

Shepard left Wyoming as a teen to finish high school in Switzerland. A friend said he had to overcome concerns about how his sexual orientation would be accepted before he returned to Wyoming -- which is nicknamed the Equality State -- for college.

``He had a lot of the same fears other people have coming into a small community,'' said Walt Boulden, a graduate student. ``When he left Wyoming he had just started dealing with being gay. So he was very concerned about the attitudes when he first came back.

``But he really felt at home and comfortable here. He felt this was the place to be right now.''


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