Despite Matthew Shepard’s murder being one of the most impactful and memorable crimes in American history, there are no memorials marking the event besides this small plaque on a bench. The bench is outside the Arts and Sciences building on the University of Wyoming campus, where Shepard was a student.
The horrific events that took place shortly after midnight on October 7, 1998, would become one of the most notorious anti-gay hate crimes in American history and spawned an activist movement that, more than a decade later, would result in passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, a federal law against bias crimes directed at lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender people.
Two men, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, abducted Matt and drove him to a remote area east of Laramie, Wyoming. He was tied to a split-rail fence where the two men severely assaulted him with the butt of a pistol. He was beaten and left to die in the cold of the night. Almost 18 hours later, he was found by a bicyclist who initially mistook him for a scarecrow. Matt died on October 12 at 12:53 a.m. at Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado with his family by his side. His memorial service was attended by friends and family from around the world and garnered immense media attention that brought Matt’s story to the forefront of the fight against bigotry and hate.
Often the bench has flowers and mementos left by people coming to pay their respects. A plaque on the bench reads: “Matthew Wayne Shepard December 1, 1976 - October 12, 1998. Beloved son, brother, and friend. He continues to make a difference. Peace be with him and all who sit here.”