Like so many other people, I awoke to the news Sunday morning.
Club Q, a LGBTQ+ night club in Colorado Springs, had been attacked by a shooter just before midnight that Saturday, a news alert read. At least five people were feared dead, and 25 people injured, initial reports estimated.
Then, my phone pinged.
It was one of my editors. The USA TODAY Network — which the Coloradoan is part of — wanted help with its coverage of the shooting, she said.
I packed a bag, got in my car and headed to Colorado Springs — my hometown. I hadn’t been on the road more than 20 minutes when Judy and Dennis Shepard popped into my head.
Club Q shooting brings back memories of Matthew Shepard murder
It’s been nearly 25 years since their son Matthew Shepard, a young gay man, was brutally attacked by two men on the outskirts of Laramie, Wyoming, the sleepy college town where Matthew was attending the University of Wyoming.
He had been beaten so badly that when a mountain biker found him 18 hours later, he mistook Matthew’s limp, battered form for a scarecrow. Just after midnight on Oct. 12, 1998, five days after his attack, Matthew died at Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins. He was 21 years old.
In 2018, The Coloradoan published a special series commemorating the 20th anniversary of Matthew’s murder and its enduring impact. Decades later, Matthew’s death was still considered the wake-up call the United States needed around anti-gay discrimination. Or, as USA TODAY would put it in one of its October editions that year, Matthew’s murder would become “America’s window into hate.”
I know that headline word-for-word because I’m looking at it. When the Coloradoan’s 20th anniversary coverage of Matthew’s death ran in USA TODAY that October, my mom dutifully clipped it out, showed it to her ladies golf group and squirreled it away for me to keep.
The next time she clips out a USA TODAY story with my byline, it will likely be about the Club Q shooting — another attack on members of our country’s LGBTQ+ community.
“If you asked me 10 years ago if this would be happening today, I would say definitely not,” Judy Shepard told me Tuesday.
While Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said the shooting had “all the trappings of a hate crime,” and the suspected shooter — identified as 22-year-old Anderson Lee Aldrich — has been arrested on suspicion of murder and committing a bias-motivated hate crime, charges had not been filed against them as of Wednesday afternoon. The police’s ongoing investigation will ultimately determine a motive, Suthers added.
Aldrich’s defense team said in court documents filed late Tuesday that the suspect is nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns.
Regardless of how the suspect is charged and what their motivation was, the shooting has been yet another challenge for an LGBTQ+ community that has faced hate-motivated violence in the past.
Shepard family continues advocacy through Matthew Shepard Foundation
Almost 25 years after Matthew’s death, the Shepards are still speaking publicly as part of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, which they started in 1998 to spread their son’s story and push for acceptance, equality and inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community.
“We really didn’t think we’d be in existence five years, much less 25 years later,” Judy Shepard said. “Memorial foundations just don’t tend to last. People move on. But as long as it’s relevant, we’ll be here.”
“I wish it wasn’t relevant,” she added. “I wish all of this was over with. We just want (members of the LGBTQ+) community to be acknowledged and recognized like every other American.”
For years, their mission at the Matthew Shepard Foundation has progressed, from successfully lobbying for the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 to seeing the 2011 repeal of the U.S. military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy and the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision federally recognizing same-sex marriage in the U.S.
“Not only was hate unleashed, but it was actually encouraged in some corners,” Judy Shepard said. “And now we’re dealing with the aftermath.”
On Monday, Colorado Springs released the names of the shooting victims. They are Kelly Loving, Daniel Aston, Derrick Rump, Ashley Paugh and Raymond Green Vance.
As she watches the news of the Club Q shooting unfold, Judy Shepard said she feels for their families.
“Maybe more than most people, Dennis and I understand what they’re going through,” she said. “Just remember that what happened was really about those families — not about gun statistics or the number of hate crimes or what law enforcement is going to do or not do.”
“It’s about these families and how they’re affected — about sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, friends and lovers. Real people.”