Three Columbus residents recalled their reaction — beyond shock and grief for the victim — to the 1998 beating, torture and eventual death of 21-year-old Matthew Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student tied to a fence and left for dead in Laramie, Wyoming.

All three — Jill Tasker, John Pickett and Sondra Bolte — have a key role in the Ensemble Theatre Columbus’ and Pride Alliance Columbus’ presentation of the play, “The Laramie Project,” Thursday through Sunday in Columbus.

The production focuses on Laramie residents’ wide-ranging thoughts and reactions to Shepard’s death via more than 200 interviews conducted by the New York-based Tectonic Theater Project.

“We really did feel that now was the time to present this because of the current national climate, and because of the recent empowerment of hate groups — and to remind people of the face of hate,” director Tasker said.

A Welcoming Community grant from the Heritage Fund: The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County has made the presentations possible.

“The heinousness of this crime is such that all you need to do (in this play) is have the bare mention of it, and you’ve done it justice,” said cast member Tim Staggs who, like others, is playing multiple characters as the show was designed.

For more on this story, see Tuesday’s Republic.

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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at or 812-379-5672.