by Danielle Del Sontro
Leslea Newman, author, spokeswoman, and civil rights activist, wrote October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard fourteen years after the brutal murder of her fan, Matthew Shepard. A University of Wyoming student, Matthew Shepard, a homosexual, was kidnapped, tortured, and left in critical condition on October 6, 1998. Leslea Newman’sOctober Mourning is her emotional depiction of the hate crime that transpired during that interminable night based upon facts gathered through the following year’s court proceedings and police investigations. Written as a booklet of poems, Leslea Newman uses various points of perspective to capture the night of the vicious murder through the eyes of everyone ranging from the victim, to the biker who found Shepard’s still-breathing body, to the girlfriends of the homophobic attackers. The novel is filled with quotes from police, investigators, the judge who convicted Matthew Shepard’s murderers, the Shepard family, and several other people who publically commented during the following year. For example, Officer Reggie Fluty reported about finding Matthew Shepard’s body, “The only place that didn’t have any blood on him, on his face, was what appeared to be where he’d been crying” (October Mourning 2012). Since Matthew Shepard’s death on October 12, 1998 in Laramie, Wyoming, his parents, Judy and Dennis Shepard, organized the Matthew Shepard Foundation (matthewshepard.org). The Matthew Shepard Foundation’s purpose is to educate, reach out, and advocate for the LGBT(QIA) community all while continuing to spread Matthew Shepard’s story. The New York City’s Tectonic Theatre Project created and performed The Laramie Project which portrayed the results of Matthew Shepard’s death and how the community reacted to it. Members from the Westboro Baptist Church, who heavily protested both Matthew Shepard’s funeral and the making of The Laramie Project, were even mentioned in the film. At the funeral, when the Westboro Baptist Church members appeared with anti-equality signs, members from “Angel Action” stood with uniforms that blocked the homophobic signs. Matthew Shepard’s attackers, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, were charged with two consecutive life sentences by Judge Jeff Donnell. As we enter another October, which is coincidentally LGBT History Month, pick up the book from the Media Center and read about the unfortunate story of Matthew Shepard’s murder and the aftermath. It’s an easy read — only ninety pages — and has factual information of a tragedy that impacted a nation. I highly recommend it.