Arthur Carl Warren, known as J.R., was murdered on July 4 2000 in Grant Town, Marion County, West Virginia
Without exception, J.R. is described as a soft-spoken, mild-mannered, and generous young man. Slowed by a deformed hand and a learning disability, he was an unlikely target for anyone's wrath, rarely straying far from the confines of Grant Town.
When J.R. came out to his mother when he was 16, Brenda Warren says she was at a loss for words for one of the few times in her life. "I knew he had been struggling with something, and here it was," she says. "He was fighting an internal struggle, and he had all these questions that don't have answers. I mainly just wanted him to know that I was his mother and I would love him no matter what."
But there was one thing Brenda Warren says she could not bear telling her son: she believed homosexuality to be an abomination in the eyes of the Lord and couldn't reconcile her love for her son and her belief in Scripture. Therefore she sent J.R. to the Rev. Nelson Staples for counseling and prayer.
J.R. who was a devoted churchgoer, went to se the reverend. The Warrens, who are African-American, attend the Mount Beulah Baptist Church, a member of the Missionary Baptist assembly that split with Southern Baptists over their support for slavery.
"J.R. came into my office and told me he was struggling with an attraction to males," Rev. Staples says. "He said that when he watched movies, he was taking the part of the female in the romance scenes. He wanted to know what was wrong with him and whether this was against God's will. I tried to assure him that God, as I understand him, made everything good. He didn't make any junk."
Staples felt obligated to read what are often interpreted to be antigay passages from the New Testament: "I told him this is what the Bible teaches and this is what I believe. But there are some cases in life where only God can be the judge. I told him about the book of Jude, in which Christ comes back to Earth with thousands of saints to judge the world. I told him all we can do as humans is throw ourselves on the mercy of God's court. That eliminates the shame and guilt that we have about shortcomings or failures."
With the help of Rev. Staples, Brenda Warren came to what she believed was a compromise with her son about his sexual orientation. "God never said we have the right to judge and punish one another about our personal lives," she says. "He said to leave the judging up to him. We are only required to love one another. If we don't love one another like God loves us, we will never see heaven."
That interpretation has allowed Warren and Staples to become unequivocal gay rights supporters. Warren addressed a July rally against hate crimes in Washington, D.C., organized by the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay rights group, and has lobbied for the inclusion of sexual orientation in West Virginia's hate-crimes law.
"For years the other kids had been calling him 'faggot' and 'nigger,' " Warren recalls. "There were threats, and he would come home crying about all the meanness in the world. It was hard to understand how this could happen in a place like this where there is so little crime and people have good values and go to church. But in the back of my mind I was always afraid that something bad could happen to J.R., and I tried to keep him close."
"If J.R. ever had a boyfriend, I never knew about it," Brenda Warren says. "In a way I was relieved because I thought it would make him even more of a target for the young people around here. I didn't want him to be harassed."
Brenda Warren remembers the last time she saw her son, Arthur, as if it were yesterday. J.R., as he was known, went out around 11:30 p.m. to enjoy the Fourth of July fireworks in Grant Town, a hamlet of about 700 in the shadow of the Appalachians in northern West Virginia. As he walked out the door, she reminded him of his 12:30 curfew. When J.R. didn't return home by 2:30, she went to bed thinking he must have spent the night at a friend's.
Soon after he left home, Warren apparently came across David Allen Parker and Jared Wilson, 17-year-olds with whom he was acquainted. The boys drove in Parker's Camaro to an abandoned Grant Town home and began kicking and pummeling Warren there. They then drove Warren, who begged to be taken home, to a deserted stretch of roadway and ran over his body with the car in an attempt to disguise Warren's massive injuries as a hit-and-run. In a statement to police, Wilson charged that Parker was infuriated by rumors that he was having a sexual relationship with Warren.
Warren's body was found along side the roadway. The accused teenagers, the two 17-year-olds and a 16-year-old, confessed to the crime and likely will face murder and conspiracy charges, said Sheriff Ron Watkins. But Watkins, who is leading the police investigation, said he has no evidence pointing to the conclusion that this is a hate crime.
"In none of the statements that I received, no one that I've talked to thereafter has ever indicated to me that its cause was sexuality or the color of his skin," said Watkins. "Until I receive that evidence, I can't very well say it was a hate crime."
By looking at how calculated the actions of the three teenagers were, and the severe viciousness bestowed on the victim, this itself certainly is evidence of acting with extreme hatred toward another. Just because the killers don't spontaneously offer proof they were motivated by hate, this doesn't means it isn't.
"I always really believed I lived in a safe area, especially when it came to my kids, so I didn't think that much about it," Warren said in an interview with The Advocate. "This is the kind of small town where people look out for one another, and God looks after all of us." Despite her sense of security, Warren says that when police arrived at her door while she was preparing for work early the next morning, she knew immediately they bore the news that J.R., age 26, was dead.
The parents of a murdered 26-year-old openly gay African-American want his killers charged with a hate crime. Speaking out for the first time since the July 4 murder, Arthur and Brenda Warren said on Sunday they hoped the three white teenagers who police say confessed to killing Arthur Carl "J.R." Warren Jr. would be tried as adults.
"If it's not hate, what is it?" a tearful Brenda Warren told CNN. "I just want someone to tell me what it is." "I want them, and my friends and my entire family want them to be tried as adults," Warren Sr. said.
On its face the Warren murder bears an eerie resemblance to the brutal and much-publicized slayings of Matthew Shepard in 1998 and Billy Jack Gaither in 1999. But the case never received the outpouring of media coverage showered on Shepard and his family. And Warren's death offers a rare inside look at how rural conservative Christians grapple with vexing questions related to religion, sin, and homosexuality in the aftermath of a violent murder.
At Warren's memorial service, the Rev. Nelson Staples III warned his congregants against blaming Warren for his fate. "There are people who wrestle with their sexual orientation," he declared. "If you've never had to wrestle, if you've never had to weep because you feel one thing and the Book says another thing, you don't know."
The Rev. Staples appealed to worshippers to phone the local prosecutor to persuade him to charge the teenagers with a hate crime.
"I believe the boys that attacked J.R. have a warped sense of right and wrong," Staples says. "We have to realize that people think it is OK to dog a homosexual. As Christians, we have a responsibility to do something about what is a mistaken belief system."
Because the church is predominantly African-American and aware of the Missionary Baptists' resistance to racism within the Baptist denomination, Staples and Warren say it has been easier to break with the church's tradition of antigay preaching as well. "We have had to learn to accept each other-not just tolerate each other," Staples says. "J.R. helped us all to learn to be more accepting of one another."
Like most mothers, Brenda Warren prayed that her son would outlive her. And like many mothers of gay-bashing victims, she has absorbed the bitter symbolism of a son more warmly embraced by the community in death than in life. Still, when she realized J.R. would face Judgment Day before her, she once again found comfort in her faith. "All I know," she says, "is that J.R. loved everyone and hated no one, and God will welcome him into his kingdom."
Members of the local gay community have said they've seen evidence of gay intolerance in Grant Town, and they said they were convinced Warren's death was the result of, and should be defined as, a hate crime.
The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay rights organization demanded local authorities declare this brutal killing a hate crime, and declared it had begun its own investigation of the case.
"It has all the earmarks of a hate crime," said Human Rights Campaign spokeswoman Liz Seaton. "There was incredible brutality in the beating ... that kind of level of viciousness is what we often see in hate crimes."
"To rule out bias motivation based on his sexual orientation or race seems premature at best, and irresponsible at worst," said Elizabeth Birch, executive director of the Human Rights Campaign in Washington on Friday.
Before leaving Washington for Grant Town, the organization's deputy field director, Liz Seaton, said by all accounts race relations in the small community were good, and there was no indication of a racial motive in the case.
"I'm heading to Fairmount hoping to meet with the authorities," Seaton told CNN late Friday. "The funeral is tomorrow and we just want to pay our respects," she said.
Derived from articles of The Advocate, and CNN.com U.S. News