Twenty years ago this week, Matthew Shepard was brutally beaten and left to die in a vicious hate crime in rural Wyoming.
Shepard’s tragic death would become a symbol for anti-gay violence, and now the 21-year-old’s parents have announced they’ve finally found a safe home for their son’s ashes.
His remains will be interred at Washington National Cathedral at a remembrance ceremony on October 26, an honour for a private citizen.
“For the past 20 years, we have shared Matt’s story with the world,” mother 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.”
Shepard’s parents told CNN that for years, the family had been unable to find a final resting place for their son.
“We didn’t want to leave him in Wyoming to be a point of pilgrimage that may be a nuisance to other families in a cemetery,” they said.
“We didn’t want to open up the option for vandalism. So we had him cremated and held onto the urn until we figured out the proper thing to do.”
The cathedral in northwest Washington D.C. is part of the LGBTIQ-inclusive and progressive Episcopal Church, making it an ideal choice, Judy Shepard said.
“Matt loved the Episcopal church and felt welcomed by his church in Wyoming,” she said.
Shepard was in his first year of university on October 6, 1998, when he was lured from a bar by two men who told police they pretended to be gay in order to rob him.
One of the men told police that when Shepard placed his hand on his knee, they began to beat him.
Shepard was left tied to a fence for 18 hours until he was discovered by a passer-by. He died five days later in hospital on October 12.
The two men, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, were convicted of his murder a year later and received life sentences.
Shepard’s murder drew national outrage, and his parents went on to establish the Matthew Shepard Foundation to fight for LGBTIQ rights.
In 2009, his name was on US legislation that made it a federal crime to assault someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Shepard will be one of approximately 200 people to have been interred at the Cathedral over the last century, including former president Woodrow Wilson and Helen Keller and her teacher Anne Sullivan.
“We are relieved and pleased to know that Matt’s final resting place will be among other American heroes and dignitaries,” Shepard’s family said.
“It’s exactly where he belongs.”
(Photo by The Matthew Shepard Foundation)