In October of 1998, Aaron Kreifels, a young man, resident of Laramie, Wyoming discovered Matthew Shepard's limp body bound to a fence. From a distance Kreifels mistook Shepard's slender frame for a “scarecrow”, and was horrified to find otherwise (Kaufman). Matthew Shepard, a twenty-one year old University of Wyoming student, had been beaten until he was no longer recognizable, and while still technically alive he was rushed into urgent care. He died, after slipping into a coma, six days later (Kaufman).
Shepard was a homosexual man, and his murder was labeled as a hate crime, a murder which, in the late 90's, dominated the airwaves: “Matthew Shepard” was the name at the tip of everyone's tongue, but what made his murder special? JoAnn Wypilewski points out in her essay “A Boy's Life” that, “Gay men are killed horribly everywhere in this country, more than thirty just since Shepard – one of them in Richmond, Virginia, beheaded” (609). When so many men are killed in a similar context why do we specifically care about Matthew Shepard – or why don't we? Searching simply the name “Matthew Shepard” in the Google database yields thousands of results in the form of articles, news periodicals, and videos. The media exposure of the Matthew Shepard case is overwhelming. The overload of information can leave us clueless. As college students of the twenty-teens who are fifteen years removed from the incident how do we care about Matthew Shepard?
There is no denying that the murder of Matthew Shepard was brutal and unnecessary. His murderer, Aaron McKinney, committed a heinous act and were punished to the full extent of the law. However, do we simply whisk away the murderers demonizing them as monsters while Shepard is left as an angel shining in the sunlight? No, it's not that simple. Matthew Shepard was not that simple, he was more than a victim – he was a man. He has been described as a charming boy, a suicidal depressive, a generous person, mentally defective, a drug abuser, disturbed by his HIV status, a naïf and many other terms that show he was a complex human being (608-609). Do not let this tangled impression of young Matthew Shepard lessen the impact of his death.
A recent novel The Book of Matt authored by Stephen Jimenez was met by the public with some degree of tension. The author clarifies his intentions in writing the piece, “Jimenez is also careful to point out that his goal is [to] understand Shepard as a complex human being and make the fullest possible sense of his murder, not to suggest in any way that he deserved his horrific fate” (Gumbel). Matthew Shepard was more than he was depicted in the media. As much as the news likes to simplify the Matthew Shepard case as an anti-gay hate crime there are other elements to understand.
In a 20/20 interview with Elizabeth Vargas many details are revealed. The underground methamphetamine culture was prevalent in Laramie. Both Shepard, and his primary murderer Aaron McKinney, were a part of...