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Teddy Bears Adorn Gay Attack Fence

October 13, 1999

LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) _ On the one-year anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s death, two men completed a four-day, 72-mile hike and left 150 homemade teddy bears at the fence where the gay college student was tied up and beaten.

Jerry Switzer and Jeremy Atencio say their Hike For Hope was done to raise awareness of hate crimes.

``There’s a lot to do to make it so no one ever has to visit a site like this again,″ said Switzer, a friend of Shepard’s.

In a closed courtroom, jury selection continued for a second day Tuesday in the trial of Aaron McKinney, 22. McKinney is charged with murder, kidnapping and aggravated robbery in Shepard’s death and could face the death penalty if convicted.

A second man, Russell Henderson, 22, pleaded guilty in April to felony murder and kidnapping and received two life sentences.

Police say Shepard may have been targeted because he was gay.

Switzer and Atencio, both of Denver, began their journey in Fort Collins, Colo., where Shepard died on Oct. 12, 1998. Each bear represents a different victim of hate or violence and were sent from as far away as England and Australia.

Near the end of their hike, the men were joined by Erin Uritus, who helped them found the Bringing Equality and Respect, or BEAR Project, and gay activists Cathy Renna, of Washington, D.C., and Jeff Montgomery of Detroit.

Uritus first visited the fence in May.

``It didn’t hit me until I got here that he was here for 18 hours before someone found him,″ she said through tears. ``That’s so long.″

Matthew, a 2-foot-tall gray bear designated the ``official Hike bear,″ was placed on a cross of stones that had earlier been placed beneath the fence, and the group took photographs. Another bear, James, symbolizing black dragging death victim James Byrd Jr., and one named Columbine also made the trip.

On Tuesday evening, about 150 people attended a ceremony on campus to commemorate the anniversary of the death.

``Attitudes have been changed,″ said the Rev. Roger Schmit of St. Paul’s Newman Center in Laramie. ``The quality of life has improved and people are able to be public and be open with their potential.″

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