Detroit News, October 18, 1998 615 W. Lafayette,Detroit,MI,48226 (Fax 313-222-6417 ) (E-MAIL: Letters at detnews.com ) ( http://detnews.com/ ) Gay man's murder reveals class schism Laramie, Wyo., divided between the haves, have-nots By Steven K. Paulson / Associated Press
LARAMIE, Wyo. -- Matthew Shepard went to high school in Switzerland. He spoke three languages and had traveled the world. He was raised in a family made comfortable by his father's job in a multinational oil company. At the University of Wyoming, he was studying political science.
Aaron McKinney and his friend, Russell Henderson, came from the poor side of town. Both were from broken homes and had had run-ins with the law. They lived in trailer parks and scratched out a living working at fast-food restaurants and fixing roofs.
The three, each 21 years old, were brought together from different worlds in a savage crime that has shaken the nation into another agonizing appraisal of its attitude toward gays.
As attention focuses on the murdered man's sexual orientation, some see it also as a crime of class hatred in a divided town that has missed out on America's economic boom.
"Sooner or later this was going to happen in Laramie," says the Rev. Stephen M. Johnson, leader of a Universal Unitarian congregation here. "This is going to happen again and again and again unless the have-nots of this town become part of the community again."
The ferocity of the attack on Shepard shocked the nation. The arrest of McKinney and Henderson in Laramie made the shock complete. Many had believed, or wanted to believe, that such things couldn't happen here, in a town of 26,687 where cars and homes are routinely left unlocked. Now Laramie was the focus of national outrage, brought on by two of its residents.
McKinney was in trouble before. He was arrested for shoplifting in 1990, but the charge was dismissed. Later, he was fined for driving without a license or insurance. In December, he and several friends burglarized a fast- food restaurant, taking $2,500.
He was awaiting sentencing Oct. 6, the night Matthew Shepard was killed.
Russell Arthur Henderson's background is superficially parallel: He had several petty charges against him, from drunken driving to having an altercation with a police officer.
Still, he earned 21 merit badges to make Eagle Scout. He played high school sports and was regularly on the honor roll, although he knew he was never going to college because he was too poor.
And it is poverty, Ralph Castro, director of the Drug and Alcohol Prevention Center in Laramie, said, that spawns crime in Laramie more than anything else.
"There is always going to be people living near the poverty level in town, and others with high-profile jobs. I have no idea how we are going to prevent something like this from happening again. That's ... something that everyone in Laramie, Wyoming, and the nation is asking."