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Friday, July 19, 2013

The UK Conversations, Part II: A Lack of Hope

So, in my last post, a member of a play company in the UK, "Andrew," had asked about the overall feel of the landscape.  This was Andrew's second question to me: 
I'd be interested to know if the public at the time Matthew was in hospital were at all optimistic for his recovery. I think the doctors and family were pretty clear from early on that he would die of his injuries - did other people less closely connected to the case know that?
Dear Andrew:

 In all, I'd say that Matt's death took no one by surprise.  Everyone, naturally, was praying he would pull through, but there never seemed to be a lot of conviction to those prayers; we all seemed to know that he wasn't going to live, or if he somehow did, that he would never be whole.  You can feel that mood throughout the footage from the Newman Center's vigil: there's a flicker of hope he would survive, but like the candles, it was a small raft of light that couldn't burn forever.  If memory serves, Matt died later that same night. 

There were a lot of reasons for that despair: the media footage was dismal, and the news floating around campus was equally bleak.  Tiffany Edwards' first article on the crime from October 9th feels two steps shy of an obituary.  The school newspaper's coverage wasn't any  better.  Both of them talk about "severe head trauma" and his "critical" condition.  Even without the media coverage, basically everybody on campus had a news source somewhere, often within one or two degrees of their own acquaintance.  The faculty advisor for the LGBTA was one of the honors English professors, so there was a stream of gossip running through the freshmen honors students.  His faculty advisor was also a very popular professor in Political Science.  I think that Matt's family was also keeping in touch with his friends, and they too spread the word around.  Off campus was a slightly different story, and one I can't speak to with much conviction.  But my impression is that their mood was the same.  So many people were involved in Matt's care before he was moved to Fort Collins— nurses, EMTs, police, employees at the jail-- and naturally they talked about it.  The arraignment was public, too, and the statements made there were devastating. 

But there was one detail that stood out to those of us who grew up in the Rockies: it was the second week in October.  If you remember, I told you that the weather tends to force itself into every corner of how we live our lives, and one of those areas is our awareness of the cold.  Laramie, Wyoming sits on a sub-arctic desert plain at 7200 feet.  We have over a mile less sky above our heads than most of the United States.  Even in the summer, the nights can be cold enough to cause hypothermia; in the winter, night exposure can be lethal.  The man who killed Russell Henderson's mother, for instance, didn't need any weapon besides than a frozen county road and her stolen coat, but he murdered her just as surely.  When someone goes missing under those circumstances, we tend to keep hope on a pretty short leash. 

I vaguely remember, when I heard that McKinney had stolen Matt's shoes, I thought something like, "Oh, so I guess that's the end of it." He was left under a thin October sky without so much as a pair of shoes to keep out the frost, and for that reason I knew he was going to die.  It's strange to say this, but at the end of the day it was the theft of his shoes that convince me that Matthew's murder was a cold, calculated act.  I can't really explain why.


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