BY Judy Shepard
September 10 2009 8:00 AM ET
The Meaning of Matthew: My Son’s Murder in Laramie, and a World Transformed, by Judy Shepard (2009, Hudson Street Press)
In this excerpt, Judy Shepard attempts to find some sense of reason in the extraordinary circumstances of her son’s murder, including the fact that Matthew was treated in hospital at the same time as his murderer Aaron McKinney, who was suffering from head injuries sustained when he and his accomplice got in a fight with two petty vandals, Emiliano Morales and Jeremy Herrera, immediately after leaving Matt tied to the fence.
Matt wasn’t the only patient in the emergency room when he arrived at Ivinson Memorial Hospital on that Wednesday night. In fact, he wasn’t the only patient in the emergency room suffering from head trauma. Aaron McKinney was there as well, and he and Matt were both being treated by Dr. Cantway, who later said that—counting Emiliano Morales, who had been in the emergency room about fifteen hours earlier—he’d never before seen a time when the hospital had to deal with so many head injuries in a twenty-four-hour period.
Within an hour after Matt was admitted, Dr. Cantway determined that the hospital in Laramie wasn’t equipped to deal with either Matt’s or McKinny’s injuries, so he sent them both—in separate ambulances—to Fort Collins, where, again, they were treated by the same neurosurgeon.
I’ve had many conversations with [my husband] Dennis and [son] Logan—as well as with [police officers and detectives] Rob DeBree, Jeff Bury, Dave O’Malley, and Reggie Fluty—since that day after Matt’s death, when we all met [at the Laramie Police Department] for the first time to discuss the details of the murder. We’ve all agreed that, at the time, it felt like all of us—including Matt, McKinney, and Henderson—were pieces in a big board game, being moved around by some higher power. When we stopped to think about it, too many things happened on the day of my son’s attack that were unlikely to have transpired in the normal, logical stream of life. Matt’s bad luck in meeting McKinney and Henderson in the first place was followed quickly by the police officer noticing McKinney’s truck as he and Henderson headed back to town after beating Matt. Then McKinney and Henderson running into Herrara and Morales downtown, Officer Waters catching Henderson when he thought he was chasing one of the suspected vandals, and [mountain biker] Aaron Kreifels hitting the rock and taking a tumble where he could see Matt tied to the fence. Next [Matt’s] bank card found on the dash in McKinney’s truck helped police connect the dots quickly. And then there was the surreal fact that Matt and his murderer were treated simultaneously, in two different hospitals, by the same doctors, who at the time had no idea how the two men were connected.
It’s not that I think Matt was meant to be murdered or that Henderson and McKinney were driven by anything other than their own hatred when they killed my son. That’s certainly not the case. It’s just that, after things went so horribly off track that night—in that typical local bar in that typical American town—it seemed to all of us that somebody, something, or some power stepped in to, as much as possible, set things right.
Reggie later told me a story about when she first saw Matt tied to the fence that only further underscores my feelings about involvement of a higher power. Reggie said that as she ran to the fence she saw a large doe lying near Matt—as if the deer had been keeping him company through the night. “I didn’t see her until I started running up,” she said of the deer. “Like the old saying—‘deer in the headlights’—the doe looked right at me, and poom! She was outta there. Matthew couldn’t talk to me. He had been exposed for most of the night and half a day. Even though I tried to comfort him and let him know somebody was there, I think his comfort came from that big old doe. That was the good Lord, no doubt in my mind. I’m sure he could feel here and she could feel him, and she was with him till help came.”
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