WASHINGTON -- October 12th, marks 20 years since Mathew Shepard died after being brutally beaten and left for dead in a cold Wyoming field.
Twenty-one-year-old Shepard was an openly gay college student at the University of Wyoming.
Now, DC is about to become the permanent resting place for Shepard’s ashes.
Gene Robinson, the episcopal church’s first openly gay bishop, said Shepard’s parents contacted him about the possibility of interring Shepard at the National Cathedral.
Robinson said they wanted a place where people could visit and remember their son’s life. They were also worried about the safety of their son’s ashes.
“People from all over our country, come here to the National Cathedral. And many of them would want to remember Matthew," said Robinson.
His ashes will be permanently, and safely, held in the Cathedral’s crypt. Shepard will be interred later this month in a ceremony open to the public, followed by a private ceremony for family only.
Shepard was found on a frigid Wyoming field in 1998, near death, after being kidnapped and tortured. The hate fueled violence against a young gay man touched a nerve.
Shepard died in a hospital six days later. The two men who beat him to death were caught, tried and sentenced to life.
"It woke America up, and mostly it woke up our quiet and silent allies," said Robinson. "It was a turning point."
“In 1978, Havey Milk was assassinated. In 1988, we’re in the middle of the AIDS crisis. In 1998, Shepard was beaten to within an inch of his life and left to hang there until he died," said Robinson.
"That woke us up." said Mariann Edgar Budde, Bishop of the Episcopal Church of Washington.
A foundation now exists in Shepard’s memory. In 2009, Shepard’s name was on a bill signed into law that expanded the definition of federal hate crimes to include a victim’s sexual orientation.
“We said we want to be better than this. And we can be better as a people. It’s certainly the message of the Christian faith, but it’s also the story of our nation," said Budde,
Shepard will be among 200 people interred at the National Cathedral, including past president Woodrow Wilson and Helen Keller.