Matthew Shepard’s Remains to Be Interred at National Cathedral
It has been 20 years since Matthew Shepard was brutally killed in a Wyoming hate crime that shocked the nation and led to tougher hate crime laws.
For those 20 years, his family has not laid his remains to rest out of fear they would be desecrated. Can you imagine keeping the ashes of your child that you’re afraid to bury because you’re afraid someone will disturb them — or worse?
Two decades later, the young man is finally receiving a resting place: inside the Washington National Cathedral. That is set to happen on Oct. 26.
Shepard’s death shocked the nation
It was October 1998 when two roofing workers met Shepard at a gay bar in Wyoming. They beat him, tied him to a fence and left him to die on the high prairie. The details are gruesome:
“Reports described how Shepard was beaten so brutally that his face was completely covered in blood, except where it had been partially
cleansedby his tears.”
Shepard didn’t die immediately. He lingered for a while, finally being found by a cyclist who at first assumed Shepard’s shattered body was that of a scarecrow.
Shepard’s death came days later. His injuries were too severe to overcome.
It was the severity of the attack that led then-President Bill Clinton to implore Congress to pass the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, also known as the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The law, which wasn’t passed until 2009 when President Barack Obama signed it into law, expands the 1969 United States federal hate crime law to include crimes based on a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.
The law, of course, doesn’t eliminate hate crimes. Nothing ever will.
But it makes it easier to hold accountable those who commit them. That in itself is an improvement.
It’s a shame it took the death of a 21-year-old to make that occur. It’s likewise a shame it took more than 10 years after his killing for our lawmakers to finally find a way to make it law.
Shepard’s final resting place a special honor
You won’t be able to visit Shepard’s actual final resting place. It’s beneath the cathedral. But while Shepard won’t have the company of public mourners, his remains will be among those of some notable people. Among those whose remains are interred there are former president Woodrow Wilson, Helen Keller and her teacher, Anne Sullivan; and Navy Adm. George Dewey.
Like those others, Shepard managed to make an impact on the world. But it took his death, not his life, for that impact to be felt.
I’m sure that he probably would have lived into old age, living his life and experiencing everything the world would have offered him. I’m sure he’d rather be alive today — having barely entered his 40s — than having been killed all those years ago.
I’m glad he’ll have that special resting place that I hope will give his family peace.
And I hope his short life and horrible death won’t ever be forgotten.