In the wake of a UNC student’s false report that he was badly burned in a homophobic hate crime, campus leaders now worry about what will happen the next time that a student is targeted.
“That’s the biggest fear that the community has right now in the aftermath of this is that people won’t be believed,” says sophomore Jeff DeLuca, co-president of UNC’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Straight Alliance. “We want to join with administration to make it clear that you will be believed.”
The student organization was already planning a community conversation Thursday on the incident when UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp announced Tuesday that campus police “determined that the alleged aggravated assault reported to campus last night did not occur.” One day earlier, Thorp had termed the incident a hate crime and pledged to “bring the strongest charges possible against the attacker.”
But Quinn Matney, a 19-year-old first-year student from Asheville, wasn’t truthful when he told UNC Department of Public Safety officers April 5 that an attacker overheard a conversation that identified Matney as gay, grabbed his left arm and scorched his wrist through his flesh while yelling, “Here’s a taste of hell, fag!”
He said the event took place on the Craige footbridge on South Campus in the wee hours of that Monday morning. The story spread from campus to national and even European media this week. Television cameras showed Matney’s wounds: 3rd and 4th degree burns, three damaged nerves and a partially severed tendon causing him to lose full mobility of his finger and allies mobilized in Matney support.
DeLuca says he can’t divulge exact details of what happened. That’s up to Matney, who is still enrolled at UNC and faces yet-to-be-filed charges for falsifying the police report. He has not responded to media inquiries since Tuesday’s development.
“We only know one thing: The report that he filed was false and no assault occurred. That’s the only thing we know and anything else is just conjecture,” DeLuca says.
“I really don’t like the word ‘hoax’ because it implies some kind of malicious intent or attempt to get attention. I know for a fact that’s not that what happened.”
Moving forward, DeLuca says the public talk, still set to run from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday in Gardner Hall, is even more important.
He and co-president Billy Kluttz will offer a brief statement at Thursday’s meeting. Dean of Students Winston Crisp, Assistant Dean of Students for Community Relations Dean Blackburn, LGBTQ Center Director Phoenix and Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt, will follow them with remarks before a moderated open forum is held.
“I’m still confident that moving forward we can have a productive conversation about campus climate and safety,” DeLuca says. “We had the initial shock of the hate crime being crime being reported, and now we have this shock. It’s clear that there’s a community healing that needs to happen.”
After rallying the campus community and other Triangle advocates earlier this week, DeLuca described feeling “numb” when Phoenix called Tuesday night to notify him that the report was false.
“I just went numb when I found out, I didn’t know what to say,” he says. “I was confused. I didn’t want to believe it.”
But he still stands by Matney and says that the need to address the threat of hate crimes on campus shouldn’t be diminished by the false report.
“We are here to support Quinn. It’s going to be a different kind of support that we were originally anticipating,” he says. “We still want to do what we can to support him at this difficult time.”