Teens Who Fatally Tossed Gay Man Off Bridge In 1984 Inspired ‘IT’ Sequel

Pennywise in "It: Chapter 2" may not be real, but one of his kills has basis in real life.

By M.L. Nestel
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Horror has real-life roots.

That adage will strike again when curtains rise this weekend to fete the scary movie “IT: Chapter Two,” inspired by the 1986 epic tome penned by Stephen King.

In one of the opening scenes, audiences will watch as twentysomething Adrian Mellon, who is homosexual, gets outnumbered by a handful of bigoted teenagers.

The drowning man is later snuffed out by Pennywise, the shapeshifting clown lingering in the sewers of the fictional Maine hamlet of Derry; Pennywise has returned to cause terror after an almost three-decade hiatus.

But the brutal incident isn't at all far-fetched: It actually harks back to July 7, 1984.

That’s the day when a ghastly murder took place involving three local teens who rushed 23-year-old Charlie Howard and threw him off Bangor, Maine’s State Street Bridge, despite Howard telling the boys he couldn't swim. Howard died from drowning in the Kenduskeag Stream canal, according to The Bangor Daily News.

Daniel Ness, 17, Shawn I. Mabry, 16, and James Francis Baines, 15, eventually told police they were on the hunt for a "faggot" to hurt, a 2014 Bangor Daily News article reports.

The boys ultimately pleaded guilty to manslaughter in October 1984 and were sentenced to Maine's only juvenile prison "for an indeterminate period ending no later than Feb. 28, 1988," reports the local outlet. 

When the murder occurred, King was still a budding author who was in his mid-30s and living with his wife (and fellow author) Tabitha. Together they were residents of Bangor, Maine and siring three children.

“At the time I started writing ‘IT,’ the Howard murder had just happened,” King told the publication. “It was fresh in my mind, and fitted my idea of Derry as a place where terrible things happened... and maybe, needless to say, I was outraged. It was a hate crime.”

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The scene was reborn in the second iteration of the film adaptation.

“It is the first attack in present-day Derry and sets the state for what Derry has become,” "IT" screenwriter Gary Dauberman told The Hollywood Reporter. “It is the influence of Pennywise even while he is hibernating, and it’s pure evil what happens to Adrian. These bullies working through Pennywise was important for us to show.”

On the 30th anniversary of Howard’s murder, King suggested that Bangor needed to continue to grapple with the sources of that true horror that led the teens to take the young man’s life.

"I don’t feel responsible, exactly, and I’d never lay that on the community,” King told Bangor Daily News in 2014. “But it’s our town. We live here. Which means we have to live with Charlie, and continue trying to make it right.”

In Bangor, July 7 is now Tolerance Day in remembrance of Howard, and people toss flowers into the river in honor him every year as well.

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