[Note: this story has been modified since its original posting to correct errors.]
At 2 p.m. Saturday — exactly one week after MU student Jesse Valencia’s body was found in East Campus — the crowd at PrideFest 2004 paused for a moment of silence in Valencia’s honor.
Valencia’s death added a somber note to the celebration at Cosmo Park. Many attendees wore black armbands in his memory.
DJ Lanza, co-owner of the Arch and Column Pub, delivered a speech drawing parallels between Valencia’s death and the deaths of Harvey Milk in 1978 and Matthew Shepard in 1998. Milk was an openly gay man elected to the San Francisco board of supervisors in 1977 and shot to death by a fellow supervisor in 1978. Shepherd was a college student beaten to death in 1998 because of his sexuality.
“The big fear is that because Jesse was gay, this crime is not going to get solved,” Lanza said afterward.
Lanza said he was thrilled with the presence of Columbia police detective Jeff Westbrook, in attendance with Dave Hall of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, to spread fliers and talk with festival goers about Valencia’s death.
“We’re focusing right now on finding who killed this young man,” Westbrook said.
Bruce Alspaugh of the Columbia/Mid-Missouri Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Coalition — the group responsible for organizing the event — was helping collect donations for Valencia’s family to aid in their travel costs. The parents plan to travel to Columbia this week to collect their son’s personal belongings.
Andrea Klein, who attended the festival, summed up the anxieties Valencia’s death has caused in Columbia’s gay community.
“It looks very suspicious because it came during PrideWeek,” Klein said. “I want to know if it was a hate crime.”