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Brutal 1984 gay bashing brings community together 40 years later

Brutal 1984 gay bashing brings community together 40 years later
Photo: Screenshot News Center Maine

Forty years ago this week, 23-year-old Charlie Howard was walking with his boyfriend, Roy Ogden, through the small town of Bangor, Maine, when a car full of teenagers spotted him.

Howard recognized the car and its occupants; they had harassed him before. Three teenagers leapt from the vehicle and chased the couple down.

Howard, who suffered from asthma, fell, while Odgen escaped and watched as the teens mercilessly beat his boyfriend on a bridge over Kenduskeag Stream. As Howard begged for his life, the boys threw him off the bridge to his death.

The senseless brutality of the murder shocked the Bangor community.

“I think the death of Charlie Howard shocked people in the Bangor area out of their complacency about matters of sexual preference and prejudice. I know it did me,” wrote the author Stephen King, a Bangor native, on the 30th anniversary of Howard’s murder.

“When I look back on it, I’m still overcome with feelings of sadness and shame. I don’t feel responsible, exactly, and I’d never lay that on the community,” he added. “But it’s our town. We live here. Which means we have to live with Charlie, and continue trying to make it right.”

On the 40th anniversary of Howard’s killing, Bangor residents gathered once again on the bridge over Kenduskeag Stream to honor Howard and “continue trying to make it right.” They dropped flowers from the bridge to the stream below.

“We’re here today because so many of us were touched by what happened,” said Gia Drew, executive director of Equality Maine, according to News Center Maine. The advocacy group was formed in the aftermath of Howard’s death.

“That light that was inside of Charlie was passed on to another person, to another person, and another,” Drew said.

“Hatred and vitriol can destroy a life, can prevent somebody from being the beautiful person, the amazing person they are,” said Rev. Andrew Moeller of Bangor’s Unitarian Universalist Society, Howard’s church at the time he died. “It reminds us that we still have a long way to go.”

The three teenagers, all minors at the time, were charged with manslaughter and tried as juveniles. They were sentenced for a period not to exceed their 21st birthdays.

The youngest of the three boys, Jim Baines — 15 at the time of the killing — later expressed remorse for his part in Howard’s death and wrote a book titled Penitence: A True Story. He declined royalties for the book’s sales.

Author Stephen King would write his own form of penitence for Howard’s death, as well. Two years after his murder, an eerie recreation appeared in King’s 1986 novel It, in which three homophobic teenagers throw a young gay man over a bridge and into the same stream, where he’s set upon and murdered by the novel’s antagonist, a shape-shifting embodiment of fear named Pennywise.

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