The Laramie Project

The Laramie Project

Matthew Shepard Character Analysis

Matthew Shepard was an openly-gay university student in Laramie, Wyoming who was murdered in 1998. The Laramie Project is constructed from interviews with real Laramie residents reacting to his murder over the course of a year. Matthew is not actually played by any actor in the piece; however, he is still a major presence in the play, as characters describe their relationships with him at length. According to his friends and family, Matthew was known for his vibrant smile and his openness to others. Matthew had a small build, braces, and was HIV positive. Matthew’s murder sparked a nation-wide conversation about homophobia and gay rights, prompting many individuals and communities to work toward becoming more accepting and open.

Matthew Shepard Quotes in The Laramie Project

The The Laramie Project quotes below are all either spoken by Matthew Shepard or refer to Matthew Shepard. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Homophobia, Tolerance, and Acceptance Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Dramatists Play Service edition of The Laramie Project published in 2001.
Act 1: A Definition Quotes

Now, after Matthew, I would say that Laramie is a town defined by an accident, a crime. We’ve become Waco, we’ve become Jasper. We’re a noun, a definition, a sign. We may be able to get rid of that…but it will sure take awhile.

Related Characters: Jedadiah Schultz (speaker), Matthew Shepard
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

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Act 1: Alison and Marge Quotes

As far as the gay issue, I don’t give a damn one way or the other as long as they don’t bother me. And even if they did, I’d just say no thank you. And that’s the attitude of most of the Laramie population. They might poke one, if they were in a bar situation you know, they had been drinking, they might actually smack one in the mouth, but then they’d just walk away…Laramie is live and let live.

Related Characters: Marge Murray (speaker), Matthew Shepard, Greg Pierotti
Page Number: 29-30
Explanation and Analysis:

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Act 1: Finding Matthew Shepard Quotes

They were both my patients and they were two kids. I took care of both of them…of both their bodies. And… for a brief moment I wondered if this is how God feels when he looks down at us. How we are all his kids…Our bodies…Our souls…And I felt a great deal of compassion…for both of them…

Related Characters: Dr. Cantway (speaker), Matthew Shepard, Aaron McKinney
Page Number: 46
Explanation and Analysis:

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Act 2: Live and Let Live Quotes

Some people are saying he made a pass at them. You don’t pick up regular people. I’m not excusing their actions, but it made me feel better because it was partially Matthew Shepard’s fault and partially the guys who did it… you know maybe it’s fifty-fifty.

Related Characters: Murdock Cooper (speaker), Matthew Shepard, Aaron McKinney, Russell Henderson
Page Number: 59
Explanation and Analysis:

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And it’s even in some of the Western literature, you know, live and let live. That is such crap. I tell my friends that—even my gay friends bring it up sometimes. I’m like, “That is crap, you know?” I mean basically what it boils down to: If I don’t tell you I’m a fag, you won’t beat the crap out of me. I mean, what’s so great about that?

Related Characters: Jonas Slonaker (speaker), Matthew Shepard
Page Number: 60
Explanation and Analysis:

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Act 2: Seeing Matthew Quotes

And quite frankly I wanted to lash out at somebody. Not at Matthew, please understand that, not one of us was mad at Matthew. But we maybe wanted to squeeze McKinney’s head off. And I think about Henderson. And, you know, two absolutely human beings cause so much grief for so many people.

Related Characters: Marge Murray (speaker), Matthew Shepard, Aaron McKinney, Russell Henderson, Reggie Fluty
Page Number: 56
Explanation and Analysis:

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Act 2: E-Mail Quotes

You and the straight people of Laramie and Wyoming are guilty of the beating of Matthew Shepard just as the Germans who looked the other way are guilty of the deaths of the Jews, the Gypsies, and the homosexuals. You have taught your straight children to hate their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters—unless and until you acknowledge that Matt Shepard’s beating is not just a random occurrence, not just the work of a couple of random crazies, you have Matthew’s blood on your hands.

Related Characters: Matthew Shepard, Philip Dubois
Page Number: 57-58
Explanation and Analysis:

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Act 2: Two Queers and a Catholic Priest Quotes

I thought, “You know, should we…call the bishop and ask him permission to do the vigil?” And I was like, “Hell, no, I’m not going to do that.” His permission doesn’t make it correct, you realize that? And I’m not knocking bishops, but what is correct is correct.

Related Characters: Father Roger Schmit (speaker), Matthew Shepard, Leigh Fondakowski, Greg Pierotti
Page Number: 65
Explanation and Analysis:

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You think violence is what they did to Matthew—they did do violence to Matthew—but, you know, every time that you are called a fag, or you are called a…dyke…Do you realize that is violence? That is the seed of violence. And I would resent it immensely if you use anything I said…to somehow cultivate that kind of violence…Just deal with what is true. You know what is true. You need to do your best to say it correct.

Related Characters: Father Roger Schmit (speaker), Matthew Shepard, Leigh Fondakowski, Greg Pierotti
Page Number: 65-66
Explanation and Analysis:

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Act 2: Lifestyle 2 Quotes

Now, those two people, the accused… I think they deserve the death penalty…Now as for the victim, I know that that lifestyle is legal, but I will tell you one thing. I hope that Matthew Shepard as he was tied to that fence that he had time to reflect on a moment when someone had spoken the word of the Lord to him—and that before he slipped into a coma he had a chance to reflect on his lifestyle.

Related Characters: The Baptist Minister (speaker), Matthew Shepard, Aaron McKinney, Russell Henderson, Amanda Gronich
Related Symbols: The Fence
Page Number: 67-68
Explanation and Analysis:

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Act 2: Magnitude Quotes

And as I told you before, homosexuality is not a lifestyle with which I agree. Um, but having been thrown into this…I guess I didn’t understand the magnitude with which some people hate.

Related Characters: Rulon Stacey (speaker), Matthew Shepard
Page Number: 69-70
Explanation and Analysis:

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Act 3: Angels in America Quotes

Well, once we started working into the case, and actually speaking to the people that were gay and finding out what their underlying fears were, well, then it sort of hit home. This is America. You don’t have the right to feel that fear. And we’re still going to have people who hold with the old ideals…I’m not gonna put up with it, and I’m not going to listen to it…I already lost a couple of buddies. I don’t care. I feel more comfortable and I can sleep at night.

Related Characters: Rob Debree (speaker), Matthew Shepard
Page Number: 78
Explanation and Analysis:

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Act 3: Dennis Shepard’s Statement Quotes

I would like nothing better than to see you die, Mr. McKinney. However this is the time to begin the healing process. To show mercy to someone who refused to show any mercy. Mr. McKinney, I am going to grant you life, as hard as it is for me to do so, because of Matthew… I give you life in the memory of one who no longer lives. May you have a long life and may you thank Matthew every day for it.

Related Characters: Dennis Shepard (speaker), Matthew Shepard, Aaron McKinney
Page Number: 85
Explanation and Analysis:

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Act 3: Aftermath Quotes

It just hit me today, the minute that I got out of the courthouse. That the reason that God wanted me to find him is, for he didn’t have to die out there alone, you know. And if I wouldn’t’ve came along, they wouldn’t’ve found him for a couple of weeks at least. So it makes me feel really good that he didn’t have to die out there alone.

Related Characters: Aaron Kreifels (speaker), Matthew Shepard
Related Symbols: The Fence
Page Number: 86
Explanation and Analysis:

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Act 3: Epilogue Quotes

Change is not an easy thing, and I don’t think people were up to it here… it’s been a year since Matthew Shepard died, and they haven’t passed shit in Wyoming…at a state level, any town, nobody anywhere, has passed any kind of laws, anti-discrimination laws or hate crime legislation… What’s come out of it…that’s concrete or lasting?

Related Characters: Jonas Slonaker (speaker), Matthew Shepard
Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:

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And I remembered to myself the night he and I drove around together, he said to me, “Laramie sparkles, doesn’t it?” And where he was up there, if you sit exactly where he was, up there, Laramie sparkles from there…Matt was right there in that spot, and I can just picture in his eyes, I can just picture what he was seeing. The last thing he saw on this earth was the sparkling lights.

Related Characters: Doc O’Connor (speaker), Matthew Shepard
Related Symbols: The Fence
Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:

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Matthew Shepard Character Timeline in The Laramie Project

The timeline below shows where the character Matthew Shepard appears in The Laramie Project. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1: A Definition
Media and Community Theme Icon
Theater and Representation Theme Icon
...“good place to live” before saying that a lot of reporters came to Laramie after Matthew Shepard’s murder. One reporter (whose dialogue is spoken by another actor) had asked who found... (full context)
Media and Community Theme Icon
Theater and Representation Theme Icon
The narrator then introduces Jedadiah Schultz, who discusses how his perception of Laramie changed after Matthew Shepard’s murder. Jedadiah says that, before the murder, he would have said Laramie was a... (full context)
Act 1: Alison and Marge
Homophobia, Tolerance, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Violence, Punishment, and Justice Theme Icon
Theater and Representation Theme Icon
Greg Pierotti then asks what Marge Murray and Alison Mears’ responses were to Matthew Shepard’s murder. Marge explains that she was fairly close to the investigation because her daughter... (full context)
Act 1: Matthew
Homophobia, Tolerance, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Theater and Representation Theme Icon
In this moment, Andy Paris meets shopkeeper Trish Steger, someone who knew Matthew Shepard, for the first time. Trish says that she knew “Matt” because he used to... (full context)
Homophobia, Tolerance, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Media and Community Theme Icon
Trish Steger refers the theater company to her sister Romaine Patterson, a close friend of Matthew Shepard’s. Romaine then appears, talking about how, in their friend group, they all referred to... (full context)
Homophobia, Tolerance, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Jon Peacock, Matthew Shepard’s academic advisor at the University of Wyoming, describes how, when Matthew first entered the... (full context)
Act 1: The Word
Homophobia, Tolerance, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Religion, Morality, and Prejudice Theme Icon
...next leftmost is Father Roger Schmit and the Catholic parish. Stephen says that, immediately after Matthew Shepard’s attack, Father Roger hosted a vigil for him. The floor then goes to Father... (full context)
Homophobia, Tolerance, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Religion, Morality, and Prejudice Theme Icon
...many of the conservative Christian pastors in the community did not condemn what happened to Matthew Shepard. He says that they use the Bible as a way to defend their views.... (full context)
Act 1: Lifestyle 1
Homophobia, Tolerance, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Media and Community Theme Icon
Religion, Morality, and Prejudice Theme Icon
...Reverend’s service on Sunday and hopes to talk to the Reverend about his thoughts on Matthew Shepard. The minister’s wife tells Amanda that the minister will probably not want to talk... (full context)
Act 1: The Fireside
Homophobia, Tolerance, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Stephen Belber and Barbara Pitts go to the Fireside Bar, where Matthew Shepard was last seen on the night of his murder. The bar has pool tables... (full context)
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Barbara Pitts turns the conversation back to Matthew Shepard, and Matt Mickelson tells her that the night Matthew died, he came into the... (full context)
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Matt Galloway says he saw Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson talking to Matthew Shepard after they came back into the main part of the bar. The narrator then... (full context)
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Romaine Patterson, however, notes that Matthew Shepard was a naturally chatty person, who would easily strike up a conversation with almost... (full context)
Act 1: The Fence
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Stephen Mead Johnson describes how the fence where Matthew Shepard was found in a coma became a sort of pilgrimage site. Stephen imagines Matthew... (full context)
Act 1: Finding Matthew Shepard
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Aaron Kreifels describes finding Matthew Shepard tied to the fence where Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson left him to die.... (full context)
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...she was the one who responded to the call. Reggie ran over and saw that Matthew Shepard was tied to the fence, covered in blood, and was barely breathing. The only... (full context)
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Dr. Cantway, the emergency room doctor the night Matthew Shepard was brought in, describes how he had not seen a patient in such bad... (full context)
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Reggie Fluty resumes talking about how Matthew Shepard was bound to the fence tightly with white rope, and notes that his shoes... (full context)
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...McKinney came into the emergency room for an unrelated problem just before they brought in Matthew Shepard, and Dr. Cantway was helping Aaron just before he treated Matthew. Dr. Cantway says... (full context)
Act 2: A Laramie Man
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Jon Peacock, Matthew Shepard’s academic advisor, describes how on that Thursday the media began reporting on the crime... (full context)
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Next, Matt Galloway and Matt Mickelson, bartenders at the Fireside bar where Matthew Shepard was last seen at before his attack, describe how they realized Matthew was the... (full context)
Act 2: The Essential Facts
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A reporter states that Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson have been charged with assaulting Matthew Shepard. Catherine Connolly then describes how she walked from work to the arraignment. At the... (full context)
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The judge states that Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson met Matthew Shepard at the bar and then drove him to the fence, where they tied Matthew... (full context)
Act 2: Live and Let Live
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Sergeant Hing asks himself how what happened to Matthew could happen in Laramie, noting that there is a very active gay community in Laramie... (full context)
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...there are more gay people in Laramie than meets the eye, and he thinks that Matthew Shepard is partially to blame for his own death because he came onto Aaron McKinney... (full context)
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...introduces Zackie Salmon, who identifies as a lesbian and says that, in the wake of Matthew Shepard’s murder, she fears for her safety and would be afraid to show affection for... (full context)
Act 2: The Gem City of the Plains
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...and Russell Henderson’s poverty growing up. Another reporter insists that hatred like what happened to Matthew Shepard occurs on a smaller scale in schools nationwide on a daily basis. (full context)
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...short dialogue between the Governor of Wyoming, Jim Geringer, and a reporter. The Governor laments Matthew Shepard’s attack, but when the reporter points out that the Governor has not supported hate... (full context)
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...says that he thinks the murder would not be as big of a deal if Matthew Shepard were not gay, and he thinks his son is being seen as guilty before... (full context)
Act 2: Medical Update
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In this moment, Rulon Stacey, the hospital’s spokesperson, gives an update on Matthew Shepard’s condition. Rulon describes how Matthew was admitted to the hospital in critical condition and... (full context)
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Hospital CEO Rulon Stacey gives another medical update, saying that Matthew Shepard is still in critical condition. Rulon asks again that the media respect the family’s... (full context)
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Rulon Stacey gives the statement that he prepared with Matthew Shepard’s family. He informs the public that Matthew passed away, and expresses the family’s gratitude... (full context)
Act 2: Seeing Matthew
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...the chief investigator of the case. Rob talks about how disturbing it was to see Matthew Shepard fighting for his life, when Rob usually deals with dead bodies. (full context)
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Next, Aaron Kreifels speaks again about finding Matthew Shepard, saying he can’t get that image out of his head. He wonders why God... (full context)
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...the scene, talks about how they all tried to wear protective gloves as they helped Matthew Shepard, but the gloves kept breaking and they eventually ran out. Marge Murray then reveals... (full context)
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...intense treatment, Marge Murray felt extremely angry. She clarifies that she was not angry at Matthew Shepard, but at his attackers. She meditates on how much grief they caused so many... (full context)
Act 2: E-Mail
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...Wyoming, describes an email he received after he put a statement in the newspaper about Matthew Shepard’s death. The email writer accused Philip and the rest of the Laramie residents of... (full context)
Act 2: Vigils
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The narrator describes how cities throughout the country held vigils for Matthew Shepard, and millions of people expressed support for Matthew on the hospital’s website. (full context)
Act 2: It Happened Here
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Zubaida Ula describes her experience at the vigil for Matthew Shepard. She says that it felt good to be with other people who were in... (full context)
Act 2: Shannon and Jen
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Stephen Belber, a member of the theater company, was at the bar where Matthew Shepard was last seen when he encountered two friends of Aaron McKinney. One of the... (full context)
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...any homophobia involved in the attack, and Jen says that there probably was, especially if Matthew Shepard had hit on Aaron. According to Jen and Shannon, Aaron could tolerate homosexuality as... (full context)
Act 2: Homecoming
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...normally a simple, fun event, was much more somber and contemplative in the wake of Matthew’s murder. University President Philip Dubois describes how students added a tribute to Matthew to the... (full context)
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Matt Galloway, the bartender at Fireside the night of Matthew Shepard’s attack, participated in the parade. He talks about how incredible and powerful it was,... (full context)
Act 2: One of Ours
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Sherry Johnson, a Laramie resident and the wife of a policeman, describes her reaction to Matthew Shepard’s murder. She says that she thought what happened to Matthew was horrible, but feels... (full context)
Act 2: Two Queers and a Catholic Priest
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...speak with Father Roger Schmit, Laramie’s Catholic priest. Father Roger tells Leigh and Greg that Matthew Shepard has done an enormous amount for the community. Father Roger then goes on to... (full context)
Act 2: Christmas
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...how he and Aaron ate their Christmas dinners together. Andrew asked Aaron why he killed Matthew Shepard knowing he would likely be caught and sexually assaulted in prison. Aaron told Andrew... (full context)
Act 2: Lifestyle 2
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...Baptist Minister. The Baptist Minister tells Amanda he does not really want to talk about Matthew Shepard. Amanda tells the minister she went to his service on Sunday. The minister clarifies... (full context)
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...Henderson deserve the death penalty. The minister also says, however, that he hopes that as Matthew Shepard was slipping into a coma he had a chance to reflect on his “lifestyle”... (full context)
Act 2: That Night
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Rulon Stacey states that, around eleven-thirty, Matthew Shepard’s temperature began to drop. Matthew died, and Rulon rushed to the ICU to see... (full context)
Act 2: Magnitude
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Rulon Stacey reflects on his role as the hospital’s spokesperson for Matthew Shepard, talking about how he began to get choked up during the televised statement because... (full context)
Act 2: H-O-P-E
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...Doc O’Connor states that he hopes they don’t put Aaron and Russell to death because Matthew Shepard would not want them to die—he would want to give the community hope, instead.... (full context)
Act 3: Snow
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Act Three opens with different characters talking about their experiences at Matthew’s funeral. Matt Galloway speaks first, saying that the day of the funeral was snowy, and... (full context)
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...the actor playing Fred Phelps rants with homophobic slurs about how gay people are using Matthew’s murder to promote the “gay lifestyle.” (full context)
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...Henderson’s trial, where Fred Phelps was also protesting. Romaine Patterson, who was a friend of Matthew Shepard’s, decided to organize a counter-protest for the trial. She talks about how she got... (full context)
Act 3: Russell Henderson
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...Thompson, Russell’s grandmother and former guardian, makes a statement. She offers her sympathies to the Shepard family and says that she has often thought of Matthew Shepard since the attack. Lucy... (full context)
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...Russell Henderson to make a statement. Russell expresses his regret and his sympathy for the Shepard family. He hopes that someday they can forgive him. Russell tells the judge he is... (full context)
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...known Russell Henderson for his entire life, and says that when she heard he murdered Matthew Shepard she felt total disbelief. The teacher tells the company that the church decided to... (full context)
Act 3: Angels in America
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Next, the Detective on Matthew’s case, Rob Debree, talks about how, thanks to the investigation, he spoke for the first... (full context)
Act 3: Aaron McKinney
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...He asks Aaron about his trip to Fireside Bar, where he and Russell Henderson met Matthew Shepard. Aaron tells him that they gave “a kid” a ride home, and when Rob... (full context)
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Rob Debree asks how Aaron McKinney met Matthew Shepard, and Aaron says that Matthew asked them for a ride home. Rob asks when... (full context)
Act 3: Gay Panic
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...Salmon talks about how, when the defense team tried to argue that Aaron McKinney killed Matthew Shepard because Matthew hit on him, she felt sick. Zackie thought it was an endorsement... (full context)
Act 3: Aaron McKinney (continued)
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...hesitates, and says he just gets angry if they hit on him. Rob asks if Matthew Shepard threatened him, and Aaron says he did not. Aaron then begins to realize that... (full context)
Act 3: Dennis Shepard’s Statement
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Next, the playwrights present Dennis Shepard’s statement. Dennis, who is Matthew Shepard’s father, says that Matthew was a winner, although he... (full context)
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Dennis Shepard then talks about the death penalty, saying that he has heard people saying that Matthew... (full context)
Act 3: Aftermath
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Reggie Fluty talks about how she and investigator Rob Debree hugged and cried after Dennis Shepard’s statement, as did most other people in the courtroom. Rob Debree expresses his thankfulness that... (full context)
Act 3: Epilogue
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...Afterward, Jedadiah told the theater company that, although he tried not to get involved with Matthew Shepard’s case, he felt it changed him. Jedadiah asks to hear a recording of his... (full context)
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...in Washington D.C. by the Anti-Defamation League for the counter-protest she organized. Romaine feels that Matthew Shepard is guiding her through her life. (full context)
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...believes that, once Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson were convicted, the townspeople stopped talking about Matthew’s death. Jonas notes that, in the year since the murder, no anti-discrimination laws have been... (full context)
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...narrator states that the company decided to meet one last time at the fence where Matthew Shepard was found to say their goodbyes. Doc O’Connor then talks about how beautiful that... (full context)