Twenty years ago this month, Matthew Shepard was abducted, brutally beaten, tied to a fence post and left for dead in a field outside of Laramie, Wyoming. Shepard was a 21-year-old student at the University of Wyoming when he was attacked on Oct. 7, 1998 — and just days later, on Oct. 12, he died of his injuries at a hospital in Fort Collins.
The attack was an anti-gay hate crime, which drew national and international attention as “one of the most notorious anti-gay hate crimes in American history,” according to the Matthew Shepard Foundation. Uproar over his death also resulted in a federal law protecting LGBT people from bias crimes years later, the organization said.
But until this month, Shepard’s remains, which his parents kept in an urn after he was cremated, did not have a final resting place. That’s set to change when Shepard is interred at Washington National Cathedral in D.C. during a thanksgiving and remembrance service on Oct. 26, according to a press release from the foundation in Shepard’s name.
After the service, there will be a private interment in the crypt of the large Episcopal cathedral in the nation’s capital.
Matthew Shepard’s mother explained why the family didn’t choose to bury Shepard in Wyoming following the brutal attack.
“We didn’t want to leave him in Wyoming to be a point of pilgrimage that may be a nuisance to other families in a cemetery,” Shepard’s parents said, CNN reports. “We didn’t want to open up the option for vandalism. So we had him cremated and held onto the urn until we figured out the proper thing to do.”
The executive director of the foundation echoed that concern.
“They were very cautious of doing something that would lead to weird pilgrimages or vandalism,” said Jason Marsden, executive director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, the Washington Post reports.
Those worries ultimately led the family to choose the cathedral in Washington, which is steeped in American history — a place where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., preached, and where funerals for presidents like Ronald Reagan have been held, according to the cathedral.
“We’ve given much thought to Matt’s final resting place, and we found the Washington National Cathedral is an ideal choice, as Matt loved the Episcopal church and felt welcomed by his church in Wyoming,” his mother, Judy Shepard, said in a statement.
About 200 people have been interred at the church over the last 100 years, including Helen Keller and President Woodrow Wilson, according to the foundation, which said the church is “a longtime supporter of the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.”
“Matthew Shepard’s death is an enduring tragedy affecting all people and should serve as an ongoing call to the nation to reject anti-LGBTQ bigotry,” the Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, dean of Washington National Cathedral, said in a statement. “The Cathedral is honored and humbled to serve as his final resting place.”