CUMNOCK, Ayrshire, Scotland – An openly gay barman in Scotland was brutally beaten and burned alive over the weekend.
The slaying of Stuart Walker, 28, has stunned Scotland and made headlines across the world.
"We can't rule out that he was targeted because he was gay," Strathclyde police told The Mirror. At the same time, police are wary of implying that Walker was the victim of a homophobic attack because so far no witnesses have been found.
Police are seeking the public’s help in trying to trace the final hours of Walker’s life and finding leads to catch those responsible for his murder.
Detective Inspector John Hogg, Ayr CID, told The Telegraph:''Stuart had been out with friends in the Cumnock area earlier during the night and was last seen alive by a family friend near to the fire station in Glaisnock Street around 2:30 am hours on Saturday morning - nearly two and a half hours before he was found.
''It is imperative that we find out where he was between 2:30 am and 4:50 am hours, who he was with and why this happened to him.
''From our enquiries so far, we understand that there may have been a number of house parties in the nearby Netherthird housing estate in the early hours of the morning - between 2am and 3am hours.
''At this time we do not know if these parties are linked to our investigation or not, so again, any information on that is important."
The charred body was found about 5 am Saturday. He had been expected to attend his grandmother’s 80th birthday party that day. Family members said Walker was very close to his grandmother.
On Sunday, Walker’s grandmother visited the site where her grandson was murdered, leaving flowers and a note that read: “Love you always. Sleep tight.”
"Stuart was the best guy ever," Walker’s cousin John Mullen told the media.
The murder has stunned the community and reminded many people of the horrific Matthew Shepard slaying in Wyoming in 1998.
"People are shocked and horrified,” Adam Ingram told BBC Radio Scotland. "Stuart was a very nice young man, very popular and well-known within the Cumnock community, and their thoughts and hearts are going out to the family at the moment.
"It's shocking and horrifying, and it's come completely out of the blue. It's clearly shaken the local community," said Ingram, a member of the Scottish Parliament who represents the former mining community.
Ingram told The Guardian that he cannot confirm any homophobic element to the slaying. "Obviously there has been speculation that there was a homophobic element to this but the police certainly at this stage are not suggesting that that is the case," Ingram said.
In an update, police now believe that Walker may have been sexually assaulted before his death.
Meanwhile, friends and strangers have shared their grief on a Facebook page called R.I.P. Stuart Walker. More than 6,500 people have liked the page.
Carol Ponton wrote: “r.i.p stuart ur smile will light up our lives forever wee man xxxxx”
Nicola Troupe wrote: “never knew you very long, but im really glad i met you, you made coming to work worth the while, you were so much fun. so sorry to hear that your gone. R.I.P xxxx”
Claire McGhee wrote: “R.I.P stuart u were a great guy things we spoke about n t laughs we had was fab ur smile would cheer up any1s day i am still shocked after gettin t call lst nite n my mum just cnt get u out her mind rip stuart ur g.b.n.f thinkin of ur family so much xxx”
Justjak Scarey North wrote: “Good bye Stuart - WOW what a great guy you were, cant believe ive got to write this xx”
Sarah Williamson wrote: “i never knew you, but heard what happened and i'm absolutely shocked. I'm not sure if this terrible thing happened to you because you were gay or not, but if it was then it just makes this even more horrid. No-one deserves to die, but to die because of something so unimportant like your sexual preference is just sickening. R.I.P Stuart, the people who did this to you are a disgrace and i hope you find comfort in knowing that these sick bastards will pay for what they did to you and your family.”