Today In History: “Baby, I’m So Sorry This Happened”

Jim Burroway

October 7th, 2008

Ten years ago today at around 6:30 PM, Aaron Kreifels was riding his bicycle on Snowy Mountain View Road, just outside of Laramie, Wyoming, when he wiped out near the end of a rough buck-and-rail fence. In the fall, he severely damaged his front tire. Aaron got up to try to figure out how to get back into town when he was startled by what he thought was a scarecrow. He took a closer look and discovered that it wasn’t a scarecrow, but a 5-foot-2, 102 pound University of Wyoming student by the name of Matthew Shepard.

Aaron was further surprised to see that the bloody figure was still alive, though barely. Matthew was comatose, breathing “as if his lungs are full of blood,” Aaron would later testify. It had been a very cold day that day with a 30-degree freezing wind the night before, and it was now evening again. Matthew had been there for more than 18 hours, laying on his back, head propped against the fence, his legs outstretched. His hands were tied behind him, and the rope was tied to a fence post just four inches off the ground. His shoes were missing.

Aaron, in a state of panic, ran to the nearby home of Charles Dolan. From there, they called 911, and then the both of them returned to Matthew to wait for the sheriff’s deputy to arrive. Deputy Reggie Fluty later testified that the only spots not covered in blood on Matt’s brutally disfigured face were tracks cleansed by his tears. She told the barely breathing victim, “Baby, I’m so sorry this happened.”

Matthew was rushed to Poudre Valley Hospital’s intensive care unit in critical condition. He suffered fractures from the back of his head to the front of his right ear from being pistol-whipped by a 357-Magnum more than twenty times. He had severe brain stem damage which affected his body’s ability to control heart rate, breathing, temperature, and other involuntary functions. There were lacerations around his head, face and neck. He had welts on his back and arm, and bruised knees and groin. He had also suffered from hypothermia.

His injuries were too severe for doctors to operate. They did however insert a drain into Matthew’s skull to relieve the pressure on his brain.

By the end of ten years ago today, Matthew Shepard was laying quietly in a soft, warm bed with clean sheets after having spent eighteen hours in the freezing high plains of Wyoming tied to a fence post. He was breathing with the aid of a ventilator.

See also:
(Oct 16) Today In History: Rest In Peace
(Oct 13) Today In History: “Something In the Culture”
(Oct 12) Today In History: Matthew Wayne Shepard (Dec 1, 1976 – Oct 12, 1998)
(Oct 11) Today In History: The Vigil
(Oct 10) Today In History: Armbands and Scarecrows
(Oct 9) Also Today In History: Details Emerge
(Oct 9) Today In History: “We Just Wanted To Spend Time With Him”
(Oct 8) Today in History: Two Men Arrested
(Oct 7) Also Today In History: Another Assault In Laramie
(Oct 7) Today In History: “Baby, I’m So Sorry This Happened”
(Oct 6) Today In History: Before Matthew Shepard

Lynn David

October 7th, 2008

It’s true that in any civil rights fight there seems to be two aspects. The first is that struggle for governmental legislation. It seems we have a tough row to hoe, the federal government is not willing to help us to any great extent. Our struggle has been state-by-state, and that has been rather sporadic in successes.

The other aspect is what one black actor pointed out on some cop show (Law & Order? OR NYPD Blue?), and it always stuck with me. He said, “we’re in the hearts and minds stage” of the struggle for civil rights, and it must be for one person at a time, slowly and delicately.

It seems our struggle has been backwards from that of black Americans in that respect. We’ve always been in a ‘hearts and minds’ struggle. Sometimes, it is within ourselves as an inwardly directed homophobia often set off by our own religious beliefs. Sometimes/oftimes it is within our families, something black Americans haven’t of necessity had to deal with. Our families can certainly be the worst of our struggle, but if we can weather the trials there we can certainly maintain our struggle elsewhere in the public sector.

It bothers me that it takes discussion as in the Laramie Project of the death of Matthew Shepard to elicit some of those hearts and minds. It bothers me still more that his memory does the opposite in some people. Well, I don’t know where this is going or where it’s been, except that remembering Matthew really gets to me.

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