CHICAGO (AP) _ A makeshift memorial on the city's North Side carries photos of Matthew Shepard, the gay college student who was fatally beaten in Wyoming, and a letter scrawled in red ink.

``Dear Lord, take care of our Matt, our dear one who has passed,'' it reads. ``And please take care of us. Thank you very much. Amen.''

More than 500 people gathered at the memorial Wednesday night during a candlelight vigil for Shepard, who died Monday from injuries sustained in last week's assualt. Such memorials have become a familiar sight across the nation as people gather to express their shock and outrage over the attack, which police say was partially fueled by Shepard's homosexuality.

``I can't stop crying. I am so devastated by this,'' gay actress Ellen DeGeneres told a crowd of more than 1,000 people at a rally outside the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday night. ``I'm begging heterosexuals to see this as a wake-up call to please stem the hate. We shouldn't be asked to change who we are.''

Some gay organizations have received hate mail since Shepard's death on Monday. Disciplinary hearings are scheduled next week for 11 Colorado State University students in connection with a homecoming float that appeared to mock Shepard even as he was dying in a nearby hospital.

Some religious leaders say they are particularly alarmed by a Kansas pastor's plan to picket Shepard's funeral Friday with signs reading, among other things, ``No tears for queers.''

``Evil exists, even in the religious community, and tries to mask itself as light,'' the Rev. Ted Curtis said after Wednesday's service at Grace Episcopal Church in Chicago.

Two young men have been arrested in the death of the 21-year-old Shepard, who investigators say was pistol-whipped and lashed to a fence post outside Laramie, Wyo., for 18 hours in near-freezing temperatures.

Jocelyn Glicklich, 24, said she came to the Chicago vigil in part to remember Shepard and also because she and her girlfriend were recently harassed by teen-agers on a bus.

``Recently, the two of us have realized this is a real thing. It's just really hit home,'' Glicklich said. ``It's important that everyone realize that we still have a long way to go.''

Thomas VanEtten, who helped plan an interdenominational service in San Francisco on Tuesday with his longtime partner, Robert VanEtten, said he was heartened when about 500 people showed up.

``I think people were looking for healing and for a way to make a difference ... instead of screaming and shouting,'' said VanEtten, a member of Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, where the service was held.

``Let's give Matthew Shepard's life meaning. We must not let an act of violence like this end without it becoming a beacon of hope.''