Slain gay student remembered as 'angel with new wings'
Friends, family say good-bye to Matthew ShepardIn this story:
Web posted at: 8:22 p.m. EDT (0022 GMT)
CASPER, Wyoming (CNN) -- As a wet snow fell on mourners outside, family and friends of Matthew Shepard gathered Friday afternoon in the Casper church where he was baptized to remember the gay college student beaten to death in an attack that moved and shocked the nation.
"Matthew, an angel with new wings in a place a world away, can once again begin to sing," began a poem written by his cousin and read at the service. "His image will never fade ... The world's hearts you now have touched."
The Rev. Royce Brown, rector of St. Mark's Episcopal Church, urged some 700 mourners not to be overcome by the evil that took his life but to focus instead on God's promise that evil will not triumph in the end.
"We have all come here today under a tragic circumstance," Brown said. "Out of Matt's tragic death, I firmly believe that we must seek the good -- the good that will develop."
"Matt was a young man who met the world with eager expectation, who offered trust and friendship easily and lived honestly," said the Rev. Ann Kitch, a cousin of Shepard from Peekskill, New York, in her eulogy. "He struggled to fit into a world not always kind to gentle spirits."
Shepard, 21, a political science student at the University of Wyoming, died Monday, five days after he was found severely beaten and tied to a fence near Laramie. Two 21-year-old men have been charged with murder in the attack, which police say was motivated mainly by robbery. However, they say Shepard was singled out because of his sexual orientation.
During the service, an urn containing Shepard's cremated remains stood on the altar.
Mourners who could not get inside St. Mark's stood outside in the snow, many huddled under umbrellas, listening to a radio broadcast of the 90-minute service. A group of them sang "Amazing Grace" as they waited for the funeral to begin.
Some of those drawn to the service had never met Shepard but were moved by his tragic death.
"I feel that this could happen to me or this could happen to anyone," said Tim Townsend, a gay man who came 280 miles from Denver for the funeral.
Earlier Friday, Shepard's parents spoke to reporters outside City Hall in Casper, the central Wyoming city of 50,000 where he spent much of his childhood. They thanked the public for an outpouring of support in the wake of the attack.
"We, the family, have no adequate way of expressing our gratitude for the thousands of e-mail comments, Web site messages, phone calls and cards offering help, consolation, sympathy and support that we have received," Dennis Shepard said. "We are honored and touched beyond measure."
"We will never forget the love that the world has shared with this kind, loving son."
Dennis Shepard also made a plea that his family's privacy be respected on the day they said good-bye to Matthew.
"We should try to remember that because Matt's last few minutes of consciousness on Earth might have been hell, his family and friends want more than ever to say their farewells to him in a peaceful, dignified and loving manner," he said.
As he spoke those words, his wife, Judy, leaned her head on his shoulder and wept.
Amid reports that anti-gay demonstrators from outside Wyoming planned to picket the funeral, the Casper City Council met in emergency session Thursday to ban demonstrations near the downtown church immediately before and after the funeral. As a precaution, the church was searched with bomb-sniffing dogs.
"It's sad that we have to do this -- that the sanctity of a funeral is not upheld," Councilman Tim Monroe said.
About a dozen anti-gay demonstrators from Kansas and Texas showed up several hours before the funeral to hold a demonstration across the street. They carried signs such as "Fear God Not Fags" and yelled anti-gay slogans, as police in yellow rain slickers and riot helmets kept watch.
Demonstrators were kept behind a fence, with counter-demonstrators who came to challenge them behind another fence several feet away.
"This isn't what Jesus Christ would do. This isn't what Christians do. They don't condemn people," said David Anderson of Casper. "This just upsets me. This whole circus upsets me."
Shepard's death has drawn nationwide condemnation and sparked calls for Congress and the Wyoming Legislature to pass hate-crimes legislation, which would provide enhanced penalties to people who commit crimes motivated by a victim's sexual orientation.
President Bill Clinton sent two representatives to the funeral -- Veterans Affairs Secretary Togo West and Sean Maloney, an openly gay deputy staff secretary at the White House.
On Monday evening, another memorial service for Shepard is planned on the campus of the University of Wyoming in Laramie.
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