Matthew Shepard, 21, died Monday at Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, Colo., while on life support. The University of Wyoming student had been in a coma since bicyclists found him in near-freezing temperatures Wednesday.
About 200 friends and students gathered at UNC-Chapel Hill Monday night to honor Shepard, who lived in Raleigh for about a year before moving to Wyoming a few months ago.
Kurt Scofield, who lives in Cary, told WRAL-TV that he met Shepard through his brother. Scofield said Shepard struggled with anorexia but seemed to be doing well in Wyoming.
``I'm still having a hard time comprehending what happened,'' Scofield said. ``It's hard for me to imagine why someone would do that to another human being.''
The attack has spurred calls nationwide for hate-crimes legislation protecting homosexuals. President Clinton pressed Congress to expand the federal hate-crimes law to cover offenses based on disability or sexual orientation.
Participants at Monday night's vigil signed a petition asking North Carolina legislators for tougher hate-crime laws.
Police in Wyoming said charges against the two suspects in the beating would be upgraded to first-degree murder.