Washington National Cathedral announced today that the ashes of Matthew Shepard will be interred at the cathedral on October 26. Shepard’s murder became national news in October 1998 when he was beaten, tied to a split rail fence, and left to die in an anti-gay hate crime. The body of Shepard, who was a 21-year-old University of Wyoming student at the time, was found 18 hours after the attack by a passing bicyclist who mistook his limp and bloody body for that of a scarecrow. Shepard died of injuries sustained in the attack several days later on October 12, 1998. This Friday marks the 20 year anniversary of Shepard’s death.
The Cathedral will hold a public service of thanksgiving and remembrance of Shepard on October 26 at 10:00 a.m. EDT, presided over by the Rt. Rev. Marianne Edgar Budde, Bishop of Washington, and the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay priest to be consecrated a bishop in the Episcopal Church. A private service of interment in the cathedral’s crypt columbarium will follow the public service.
At the time of his death, Shepard’s parents had his remains cremated but did not inter them anywhere out of concern for the safety and sanctity of his final resting place since, at the time, Shepard’s death was one of the most violent anti-gay hate crimes in the country’s history. In the cathedral’s announcement about the service, his mother explained the family’s decision to inter her son’s ashes at this time, stating:
“We’ve given much thought to Matt’s final resting place, and we found the Washington National Cathedral is an ideal choice, as Matt loved the Episcopal church and felt welcomed by his church in Wyoming… For the past 20 years, we have shared Matt’s story with the world. 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.”
Twenty years after Shepard’s death, his legacy continues. The story of his murder has been immortalized in The Laramie Project, a 2000 play and 2002 HBO movie telling the story of the reactions to Shepard’s death; his name is in the title of a 2009 hate crime prevention act signed into law by President Obama; and a foundation bears his name. The Matthew Shepard Foundation “empowers individuals to embrace human dignity and diversity through outreach, advocacy and resource programs. We strive to replace hate with understanding, compassion and acceptance.”