Chicago mourns slain student with vigil

By The Columbia Chronicle

Kelly M. Woyan

Staff Writer

Almost 500 Chicagoans gathered for a Lakeview vigil on Oct. 14 to mourn the death of Matthew Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student who died earlier in the week from injuries suffered in a brutal beating.

While marching through the neighborhood, mourners periodically stopped along Halsted street to remember local hate crimes and to say prayers for the gay males who have been attacked here in the past few months. “It is important to remember who Matthew Shepard was and what his name stands for,” said Paul Fairchild, director of development for Horizons Community Service.

The 21-year-old student died Oct. 12 at Poudre Valley Hospital in Ft. Collins, Colorado. Shepard was in a coma for nearly a week after he was viciously beaten, strung up on a fence and left to die in freezing temperatures.

Russell Henderson, 21, and Aaron McKinney, 22, are charged with first-degree murder, kidnapping and aggravated robbery. The murder charge carries possible death sentences. Additionally, their girlfriends were charged with being accessories to murder. Chasity Vera Pasley, 20, and Kristen Leann Price, 18, allegedly discarded bloody clothing and initially lied about their whereabouts.

Police investigating the case said robbery was the main motive but that Shepard was apparently chosen because he was gay. The 105-pound Sherpard had been beaten twice in the past couple months. He attributed both attacks to his homosexuality.

Speakers at the vigil included U.S. Senator Carol Moseley-Braun and state Rep. Larry McKeon (D-Chicago). Moseley-Braun told the crowd to remember how the death of a man ignited the civil rights movement. “We will tolerate no homophobia, no racism in this country.”

Shepard’s death has become yet another symbol of prejudice in society and the hate crimes that continue to linger in neighborhoods. One local politician said families need to become aware of these issues and educate their children. “Schools can only go so far. Much of the education needs to come from home,” said a spokesperson for Senate Minority Leader, Emil Jones Jr.

Horizons Community Service Anti-Violence Project is putting together a donation drive and letter-writing campaign to state and federal lawmakers. Wyoming is one of eight states without a hate-crime law, while 18 other states have laws that exclude crimes associated with sexual orientation. “There are really no laws outside Cook County. If you go outside of Chicago, gays are still not accepted, even in the suburbs,” said Fairchild.