Ten Years Ago…
The wind never seems to stop here on the plains. It is October in Wyoming, and the wind carries with it a chill now. The first tentative breath of winter dances restlessly over rolling hills of sage. The days have grown short, the nights cold. And long. Very long. And quiet, save only for the sound of the wind.
Take a walk tonight across the rolling hills of Wyoming sage. Leave the town lights twinkling in the distance behind you. Walk toward the mountains in the darkness ahead. There is only you here tonight. You, and the wind, and the stars in the sky, so far away. So very far away. Around you are only rolling hills of grass and sage, fading into the night. There are remnants of what looks like a small wooden fence here, that was torn down some time ago.
Listen to the wind. Listen carefully. There are ghosts here on the plains. Hear them talk tonight among themselves…
No one knows why Matthew was determined to go to the Fireside that night, or why he left with Aaron and Russell. It was karaoke night, which would not ordinarily have interested him. There was some speculation that he was buying drugs from Aaron and Russell, but his friends find that implausible. A close friend thinks that depression may have weakened his judgment, and wonders if he had taken a heavy dose of Klonopin before he went to the bar. "When he was depressed," she says, "he would just grab a handful." Romaine Patterson remembers how in the coffee shop where she worked Matthew "would just talk to anyone-people no one else would talk to, like this weird old man…. He had no discrimination in his person."
Shortly after midnight on October 7, 1998, 20-year-old Shepard met McKinney and Henderson in a bar. McKinney and Henderson offered Shepard a ride in their car. Subsequently, Shepard was robbed, pistol whipped, tortured, tied to a fence in a remote, rural area, and left to die. McKinney and Henderson also found out his address and intended to rob his home. Still tied to the fence, Shepard was discovered eighteen hours later by a cyclist, who at first thought that Shepard was a scarecrow. At the time of discovery, Shepard was still alive, but in a coma.
Aaron Kreifels first met Matthew Shepard in a dream last Thursday night, the night after he discovered his fellow University of Wyoming student badly beaten, barely alive and tied up to a fence outside of Laramie.
Although Shepard was in Fort Collins by then, kept alive by an array of life-support machines in Poudre Valley Hospital’s intensive-care unit, Kreifels said the gay student, who was beaten beyond recognition, allegedly by two young Laramie roofers, perhaps because he was gay, came to visit his rescuer in a dream that night. Kreifels doesn’t remember much of the dream, but he said Wednesday that he awoke the next morning comforted by the vague sensation of having met the person he found in such bad shape two days before.
Although early reports indicated that two mountain bikers had discovered Shepard on the crude fence on an old, double-rutted road, Kreifels was alone that evening, struggling on his mountain bike through deep sand and for some reason ignoring a desire to turn back and find another, easier way back to town. Before he knew it, he had fallen. He was on the ground, his front wheel broken beyond repair. He was unhurt, but what he saw as he got up struck him cold.
"I got up and noticed something out of the corner of my eye,” he said from his room in a freshman dorm at the University of Wyoming on Wednesday. "At first I thought it was a scarecrow, so I didn’t think much of it. Then I went around and noticed it was a real person. I checked to see if he was conscious or not, and when I found out he wasn’t, I ran and got help as fast as I could.”
As the former high school crosscountry runner traversed the quarter- to half-mile of scrub prairie between him and the nearest house in the nearby Sherman Hills subdivision, his thoughts froze before quickly accelerating.
"It was distressing. I was panicked for a couple minutes, because I wanted to make sure I could do all I could do to help save him,” he said.
-The Denver Post
Officer Reggie Fluty: When I got there, the first – at first the only thing I could see was partially somebody’s feet and I got out of my vehicle and raced over – I seen what appeared to be a young man, thirteen, fourteen years old, because he was so tiny, laying on his back and he was tied to the bottome of the end of a pole.
I did the best I could. The gentleman that was laying on the ground, Matthew Shepard, he was covered in dry blood all over his head. There was dry blood underneath him and he was barely breathing…he was doing the best he could.
I was going to breath for him and I couldn’t get his mouth open – his mouth wouldn’t open for me.
He was covered in, like I said, partially dry blood and blood all over his head – the only place that he did not have any blood on him, on his face, was what appeared to be where he had been crying down his face.
-The Laramie Project
Shepard suffered a fracture from the back of his head to the front of his right ear. He had severe brain stem damage, which affected his body’s ability to regulate heart rate, body temperature and other vital signs. There were also about a dozen small lacerations around his head, face and neck. His injuries were deemed too severe for doctors to operate.
At the Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado, Matthew lay in bed down the hall from Aaron McKinney. Matthew was comatose; his brain stem which controls heartbeat, breathing, temperature, and other involuntary functions – was severely damaged. He also was suffering from hypothermia and had a red welt on his back, a red mark on his left arm, bruised knees, cuts on his head, neck, and face, and bruising in his groin.
Dr. Cantway: I was working the emergency room the night Matthew Shepard was brought in. I don’t think, that any of us, ah, can remember seeing a patient in that condition for a long time – those of us who’ve worked in big city hospitals have seen this. Ah, but it’s not something you expect here.
Ah, you expect it, you expect this kind of injuries to come from a car going down a hill at eighty miles an hour. You expect to see gross injuries from something like that – this horrendous, terrible thing. Ah, but you don’t expect to see that from someone doing this to another person.
The ambulance report said it was a beating so we knew.
-The Laramie Project
Exactly a week after his tragic discovery, Kreifels, 18, an architectural engineering major from Grand Island, Neb., said he tries not to think about the condition in which he found the classmate he had never seen before. Authorities say Shepard’s assailants repeatedly beat him with the butt of a .357 Magnum, fracturing his skull. Kreifels doesn’t talk about it.
"I don’t really want to go into details about that,” he said.
-The Denver Post
Aaron Kreifels: I keep seeing that picture in my head when I found him…and it’s not pleasant whatsoever. I don’t want it to be there. I wanna like get it out. That’s the biggest part for me is seeing that picture in my head. And it’s kind of unbelievable to me, you know, that – I happened to be the person who found him – because the big question with me, like with my religion, is like, Why did God want ME to find him?
-The Laramie Project
[Edited a tad…]