Originally published: Nov. 12, 2014, 10:56 a.m.
Updated: Nov. 19, 2014, 12:49 p.m.
GREENSBORO, N.C. — A gay veteran passed away Saturday from injuries he sustained in a brutal attack last weekend. A suspect in the crime is being held by police after an aggravated assault in the early morning hours of Nov. 9 in a downtown hotel. Police say the attack on the victim, whom the suspect met at a local gay bar, is not being considered a hate crime.
The victim, gay veteran Stephen Patrick White, 46, of Greensboro, had been in critical condition at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem. He had reportedly suffered burns over 52 percent of his body after the suspect, Garry Joseph Gupton, 26, of Greensboro, attacked White and set him on fire.
Greensboro police say an employee at the Battleground Inn at 1517 Westover Terrace called 911 after hearing a man screaming at the hotel at the same time a fire alarm was activated.
Police and firefighters responded to the hotel at about 4:30 a.m.
White was apparently found naked, robbed and beaten, in addition to his life-threatening injuries from the fire. A friend says White, who served in Iraq and was injured there, had a hand and part of his arm amputated after injuries sustained in the weekend attack.
White passed away on Saturday, according to information published by two local bars which had planned fundraisers for White’s medical expenses.
Gupton was arrested on the scene last weekend. He had been charged with assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury with intent to kill, but authorities have now charged him with first-degree murder. He is being held without bond.
Court documents reveal Gupton, who is a crew member in the city of Greensboro’s Water Resources Department, beat White with a desk phone, large television, other items of furniture and a deadly weapon, according to WFMY.
Sarah Ovaska at N.C. Policy Watch reported Thursday that Greensboro police told her the attack was not being investigated as a hate crime.
“He (Gupton) never verbalized to us that he intended to kill somebody,” said Susan Danielsen, a Greensboro police spokeswoman, according to N.C. Policy Watch. “There’s absolutely no evidence to indicate that this is a hate crime.”
She added: “We’re not sure what caused Mr. Gupton to act so violently. This is not a crime motivated by hate.”
Danielson told provided some smaller additional details to the Associated Press.
“We believe this was a consensual encounter between the two of them, and at some point Mr. Gupton began acting incredibly irrational,” Danielsen told the wire service.
Sources close to the victim tell qnotes the two met at Chemistry Nightclub, a gay bar in the city at 2901 Spring Garden St., and when they left “everything seemed normal” and friendly.
Drew Wofford, the owner of Chemistry Nighclub has organized a benefit for White this Saturday, Nov. 15. All proceeds from the door, bar and entertainer tips and drag show and staff pay were being donated to help in White’s recovery, but will now be donated to his family. Another local bar, Q Lounge, is also hosting a fundraiser on Saturday. Posters for both events are posted below. Donations can also be made online, where more than $9,700 had already been raised as of Sunday morning.
Advocates with the statewide LGBT advocacy group had been monitoring the crime. In a statement, Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality North Carolina, called the attack “brutal” and said community members should pay “diligent attention to the investigation.”
On Saturday, they responded to White’s death.
“Stephen White’s death is a tragic loss for the Greensboro community and North Carolina. Our thoughts and prayers remain with Stephen’s family,” Equality NC Executive Director Chris Sgro said in a statement. “Equality NC promises to follow this investigation closely to ensure that it is thorough and justice is served.”
Sgro added: “The loss of a community member is always tragic, but this loss is unacceptable. As a fellow citizens of Greensboro, my husband Ryan and I mourn tonight and stand in solidarity with the LGBT community in Greensboro.”
Chemistry owner Wofford had also issued the following statement on his nightclub’s Facebook profile after news of the attack earlier in the week:
“To All Greensboro: with great sadness and a heavy heart I write this post. Sunday morning our friend and regular customer Steven left Chemistry by cab to a local hotel with Garry Gupton whom he met earlier that evening. A few hours later, Steven was viciously assaulted, robbed and set on fire in the hotel; over 52% of his body is severely burned. This brutal attack has left Steven hospitalized and fighting for his life. Now it’s our turn to help. This weekend, on Saturday November 15 the Q will be holding a silent auction from 2 – 6pm to raise money. That night, all of us at Chemistry will be doing our part. First let me say how proud I am of my staff and entertainers for their willingness to help. They have all agreed to donate their pay and tips; Chemistry will be donating the entire door cover, and all Jello Shot sales. Steven has a long road ahead of him but he is a fighter and he is definitely not alone. I think I can speak for all of us when I say that we are all fighting for him. Also I remind you to please use caution when leaving our bar or any bar with someone you don’t know. I never would have dreamed something like this would happen here in Greensboro … but let’s make sure it never happens again.”