The ashes of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, who was murdered in one of the nation’s most infamous anti-gay hate crimes in 1998, will be interred at the Washington National Cathedral on Oct. 26, according to an announcement on Thursday by his parents.
The announcement came one day before the 20th anniversary of Shepard’s death on Oct. 12, 1998. Authorities said Shepard, 21, was tied to a fence just outside of Laramie, Wyo., on Oct. 6, 1998, by two young men he met in a Laramie bar and who lured him into getting into their vehicle.
Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, who have been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for Shepard’s murder, later admitted they drove Shepard to an isolated field outside of Laramie with the initial intent to rob him.
The two later admitted that McKinney repeatedly struck Shepard in the head with the barrel of a .357 Magnum pistol while he was tied to the fence, crushing his skull in several places. At his trial, McKinney invoked the “gay panic” defense, arguing he flew into an uncontrollable rage when Shepard allegedly groped him inside the vehicle.
Prosecutors strongly contested that defense, and the jury found McKinney guilty on multiple counts of murder. Henderson pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and avoided a trial.
A bicyclist found Shepard unconscious and still tied to the fence on the day following the attack and beating. He died five days later at a hospital in Colorado which specialized in treating brain injuries but was unable to save his life due to the severity of his injuries, authorities said at the time.
“We’ve given much thought to Matt’s final resting place, and we found the Washington National Cathedral is an ideal choice, as Matt loved the Episcopal Church and felt welcomed by his church in Wyoming,” said Judy Shepard, Matthew’s mother, in a statement.
“For the past 20 years, we have shared Matt’s story with the world,” Judy Shepard said. “It’s reassuring to know he now will rest in a sacred spot where folks can come to reflect on creating a safer, kinder world.”
Judy Shepard and her husband, Dennis Shepard, founded the Matthew Shepard Foundation a short time after Matthew’s death and have used it as a platform to become outspoken advocates for LGBT rights and laws aimed at curtailing hate crimes.
The announcement released by the Shepard family on Thursday says a private interment of Matthew’s ashes in the Washington National Cathedral’s crypt on Oct. 26 will be preceded by a 10 a.m. “thanksgiving and remembrance” service open to the public.
The service, which will celebrate Matthew’s life, will be presided over by the Right Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, the Episcopal Bishop of Washington; and the Right Rev. V. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay priest to be consecrated a bishop in the Episcopal Church, the announcement says.
“Matthew Shepard’s death is an enduring tragedy affecting all people and should serve as an ongoing call to the nation to reject anti-LGBTQ bigotry and instead embrace each of our neighbors for who they are,” said the Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, dean of Washington National Cathedral.
“In the years since Matthew’s death, the Shepard family has shown extraordinary courage and grace in keeping his spirit and memory alive, and the Cathedral is honored and humbled to serve as his final resting place,” Hollerith said in a statement.
The statement says Shepard will be one of approximately 200 people who have been interred in the cathedral over the past century.
“Others interred at the Cathedral include President Woodrow Wilson; Bishop Thomas Claggett, the first Episcopal Bishop ordained on American soil; Helen Keller and her teacher Anne Sullivan; and U.S. Navy Admiral George Dewey,” the statement says.
Jason Marsden, executive director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, told the Casper, Wyo., Star Tribune that Matthew’s parents have kept his cremated remains in an urn until they decided upon a final resting place.
Marsden told the newspaper that the family also was concerned that a Shepard resting place in Casper, the family’s hometown, might become a target for vandalism from anti-gay intruders. At the time of Shepard’s funeral service in Casper in 1998 members of the anti-LGBT Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas traveled to Casper denounced Shepard as a sinner at the site of the service.
“It’s a great promise to make sure his grave site is safe and respected, but also that if people want to pay their respects, it’s really a nice thing to give people that opportunity as well,” the Star Tribune quoted Marsden as saying about the interment at the National Cathedral.
This article originally appeared in the Washington Blade and is made available in partnership with the National Gay Media Association.