FORT COLLINS, Colo., Oct. 12 -- Matthew Shepard has died, six days after the openly gay University of Wyoming student was savagely beaten and left for dead. Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, Colo., issued a statement saying the 21-year-old political science major died at 12:53 a.m. MDT while on full life-support. Investigators believe Shepard was attacked because he was gay. Doctors at the hospital said Shepard died as a result of the severe head injuries he received during the attack. The most serious wound, a blow behind his right ear, left a 2-inch depression in his skull. Early this morning, hospital spokesman Rulon Stacey gave a statement for Shepard's family saying, 'He came into the world premature, and he left the world premature.' He added, 'Matthew's mother said to me, please tell everybody who's listening to go home and give your kids a hug, and don't let a day go by without telling them that you love them.' The attack has sparked outrage and grief. A candlelight vigil on the University of Wyoming campus Sunday night drew 1,500 people, said school president Philip DuBois. At least two anti-hate rallies are planned today in Denver, and details of a memorial service at the University of Wyoming are expected later. Wyoming Gov. Jim Geringer told reporters Monday, 'The message that needs to go out is that no one is above the law, that no life or freedom should be taken simply by an act of prejudice, be that an act of prejudice against someone who has a sexual orientation or any other person for that matter, because all life is sacred.'
Later, Geringer, a Republican running for re-election, said: 'This isn't an issue over sexual orientation. This is an issue about hate and misdirected values. Any taking of a life is wrong.' KMGH-TV in Denver reported that an unidentified gay activist said after Geringer's news conference: 'He still doesn't get it. He still thinks we choose this lifestyle.' The two suspects in the beating allegedly targeted Shepard because he flirted with them at a bar. The father and girlfriend of suspect Aaron McKinney have said 22- year-old McKinney and 21-year-old Russell Henderson never set out to kill Shepard. Bill McKinney and 18-year-old Kristin Price say McKinney and Henderson wanted to get back at Shepard for embarrassing McKinney by flirting with him at the Fireside bar Tuesday night. They say the two men just planned to rob Shepard. The lead investigator in the case, Albany County, Wyo., sheriff's Sgt. Rob DeBree, told United Press International that charges against Henderson and McKinney would be upgraded to first-degree murder, probably today. Price and 20-year-old Chastity Pasley, Henderson's girlfriend, are charged as accessories after the fact. Prosecutors allege the women supplied false alibis for their boyfriends after the two men were arrested. Investigators believe Henderson and McKinney lured Shepard into McKinney's truck Tuesday night, beating him as they drove about a mile from town. Shepard, lashed to a wooden fence and stripped of his shoes, allegedly begged for his life as he was beaten with the butt of a .357 Magnum until his assailants believed he was dead. Shepard was found Wednesday by two passing mountain bikers who initially mistook him for a scarecrow. The White House said President Clinton telephoned Shepard's family on Saturday to express his horror at the attack. White House press secretary Joe Lockhart said Clinton declared in response to the killing that 'violence motivated by hate cannot be tolerated' and demanded new efforts to establish a nationwide standard for hate crimes. ---
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