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Charles O. Howard (January 31, 1961 – July 7, 1984) was an American homosexual murder victim in Bangor, Maine in 1984. As Howard and a male companion, Roy Ogden, were walking down the street, three teenagers, Shawn I. Mabry, age 16, James Francis Baines, age 15, and Daniel Ness, age 17, harassed Howard for being gay. The youths chased the pair, yelling homophobic epithets, until they caught Howard and threw him over the State Street Bridge into the Kenduskeag Stream, despite his pleas that he could not swim. He drowned, but his friend escaped and pulled a fire alarm. Charlie Howard's body was found by rescue workers several hours later.
This event galvanized the Bangor community in ways similar to the killing of Matthew Shepard, although the case never attained the same level of national notoriety. As an adult Jim Baines later spoke to various groups in Maine about his involvement in the murder and the damage that intolerance can do to people and their community. His story, Penitence: A True Story by Edward Armstrong, was published, although he received no royalties from the book. The Maine Lesbian/Gay Political Alliance, which later became EqualityMaine, was formed in part as a reaction to Howard's death.
The Bangor City Council and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community have been working on a monument to be installed along the Kenduskeag Stream honoring the memory of Charlie Howard as the victim of a hate crime. On November 14, 2007, the Bangor City Council approved the monument, and the Charles O. Howard Memorial Foundation is raising money to install the monument. On July 7, 2004, a twentieth anniversary walk was held in memory of Howard. The Maine Speakout Project maintains the Charlie Howard Memorial Library in Portland, Maine. The library is open to the public.
This incident inspired a similar scene in the beginning of Stephen King's novel It, where three homophobic teenagers throw an openly gay man, Adrian Mellon, over a bridge and into the Kenduskeag, there to be set upon and murdered by the monster Pennywise. Mark Doty wrote a poem about the tragedy called "Charlie Howard's Descent". The murder is also the inspiration for a novel by Bette Greene titled The Drowning of Stephan Jones.
Charlie Howard was from Portsmouth, New Hampshire. A young, fair-haired man Charlie was small boned and suffered from asthma. He was often made fun of as a small child, and was bullied in high school due to his sexual orientation. He did not attend his graduation to spare his family from the taunts he often received. With his poor grades, he knew college was not for him.
In Bangor, Paul Noddin and Scott Hamilton befriended Charlie. Charlie was homeless with no prospects and Scott and Paul welcomed Charlie into their home. After a month, Charlie's opportunities were nil and Scott and Paul convinced him to return home to Portsmouth to live with his mother and stepfather.
Charlie was not home a week when he knew he could not stay. He had a brief relationship that ended quickly. When he called his two friends in Bangor, they realized Charlie was hurting and invited him to come back to Bangor.
Charlie returned - in high spirits and determined. He joined the local supportive Unitarian Church on Union Street as well as the group Interweave. Here he made new friends and was accepted for who he was. In thanks for their support, Charlie prepared an Easter dinner for Paul and Scott and decorated their home. Eventually Charlie took an apartment on First Street, near his church and adopted a kitten.
Charlie was an individual at a time when most homosexuals were still closeted, Charlie was "out" and even flamboyant. If he felt like "sissying up" e.g. wearing make up, jewelry and a woman's accessories, he was known for doing so. He was known for singing the song "I Am What I Am" from the musical La Cage aux Folles.
In 1984, many were not tolerant of homosexuals and victims of gay bashing often did not report incidents. Charlie was often tormented by local high school boys and was asked to leave a local night club when he danced with a man. Charlie was accosted by a woman in a local market one day shouting epithets such as "You pervert" and "You queer!" Frightened, Charlie made a hasty retreat, but as he was leaving, stopped, turned around, and blew a kiss. After this, Charlie was more wary of strangers. Leaving his apartment one day, he found his pet kitten dead on the doorstep. It had been strangled.
On Saturday, July 5, 1984 Charlie attended a potluck supper at Interweave. Leaving the party about 10 pm with his friend Roy Ogden, Charlie decided to walk to the post office to retrieve his post box mail. As Charlie and Roy walked up State Street and began to cross the Kenduskeag River Bridge, a car full of high school teenagers began to slow down. In the car were Shawn Mabry, Jim Baines, Daniel Ness and two girls. They had been at a party and had left to purchase alcohol with a fake ID that one of the girls had in her possession. Seeing Charlie, the boys got out of the car and decided to give chase. The two girls remained in the car.
Charlie began to run when he recognized the vehicle from an earlier incident. Shouting epithets, the boys gave chase. Charlie fell and because of his asthma could not catch his breath. Roy ran further down State Street and stopped and observed.
Pouncing on Charlie, the boys began beating and kicking him. Jim Baines shouted to throw Charlie over the bridge and grabbed him by the legs. Jim Baines and Daniel Ness grabbed Charlie and they began lifting him. Pleading for his life, Charlie grabbed the rail and begged them not to throw him in the river as he could not swim. Prying his hand loose, they began to pitch him over the rail, with Shawn Mabry giving the final push. The boys then returned to the car where the girls were trying to start the car. Spying Roy Ogden, they threatened him not to tell anyone. Roy Ogden then ran for help and pulled the first fire alarm he came to on State Street.
Soon, the sirens could be heard. An immediate search for Charlie began amongst the concrete walls that retain the Kenduskeag. At 1 am Charlie was found. An autopsy would later show he had suffered from a severe asthma attack and drowned.
Returning to the party, the boys bragged about their encounter. The next day one of the boys turned himself in after he learned that Charlie had died. The other two boys decided to leave town on a freight train and then thought better of it. Returning home, they were arrested.
The boys were sent to the Hancock County Jail and later released into their parents' custody. The boys were tried as juveniles and sentenced to the Maine Youth Center not to exceed their 21st birthdays. The boys were sentenced on 1 October 1984. According to the Bangor Daily News, "Baines was released after serving two years and Mabry was released after 22 months."
Twenty-five years later, The Bangor Daily News tried to locate Shawn Mabry, Jim Baines and Daniel Ness, now middle-aged men, for their views on the murder. The whereabouts of two of the men are unknown. Jim Baines lives and works in Bangor. Following his release from the detention center, he spoke regularly about tolerance to local students and even address the Maine State Legislature in "support of a bill to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation". In addition, he has co-authored the book Penitence with Ed Armstrong in 1994. That same year, Shawn Mabry expressed his regrets about his participation. He stated that he thinks about Charlie Howard every day.
Today, a short distance from Charlie's murder site, a memorial has been erected; engraved on the stone are the words: “May we, the citizens of Bangor, continue to change the world around us until hatred becomes peacemaking and ignorance becomes understanding.”
July 7, Charlie's death date, is now Diversity Day in Bangor.
In May 2011, vandals spray-painted graffiti and an anti-gay slur on Charlie Howard's memorial. Family and friends cleaned it up and rededicated it.