Nonbinary Owasso student’s death after a high school fight has been ruled a suicide. Here’s what to know.

The Associated Press - March 16, 2024 1:41 pm

People hold signs during a march in honor of Nex Benedict at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City, Thursday, March 14, 2024. The death of Benedict, a nonbinary high school student, the day after a fight inside a Owasso high school restroom has been ruled a suicide by the state medical examiner's office. (Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman via AP)

By SEAN MURPHY Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Police in Oklahoma say they still haven’t finished their investigation into the death of a 16-year-old nonbinary student the day after a high school fight, which has been ruled a suicide by the state medical examiner’s office.

A summary autopsy report was released on Wednesday, more than a month after Nex Benedict’s 8 death on February 8th, but a complete report isn’t expected to be released to the public for about 10 days.

Family members reported that Benedict was the target of bullying at school related to being nonbinary, which means they didn’t identify as strictly male or female.

Benedict’s family reviewed the complete autopsy report and said it documented numerous areas of physical trauma that evidence the severity of the assault, in a statement released through their attorney. They did not dispute the coroner’s report finding of a suicide.

“Rather than allow incomplete accounts to take hold and spread any further, the Benedicts feel compelled to provide a summary of those findings which have not yet been released by the Medical Examiner’s office, particularly those that contradict allegations of the assault on Nex being insignificant,” the statement said.

The findings shared by the family from the complete autopsy report also showed contusions and lacerations to the teen’s face and head, injuries to the back of the left hand, and abrasions to the chest that the coroner said are consistent with efforts to administer CPR.

On Thursday, a day after the death was ruled a suicide, President Joe Biden released a statement saying he and First Lady Jill Biden were “heartbroken” over the loss. “Nex Benedict, a kid who just wanted to be accepted, should still be here with us today.”

About 100 people marched around the Oklahoma Capitol on Thursday as part of a rally in support of Benedict, organized by an LGBTQ+ group.

Here are some things to know about Benedict’s death and the investigation:

WHAT’S THE TIMELINE FOR THE POLICE INVESTIGATION
Owasso Police Lt. Nick Boatman said on Thursday that the police investigation into Nex’s death, including the fight inside the bathroom, won’t be complete until their office receives the final autopsy report.

At that point, Boatman said the findings will be submitted to the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office to determine what charges, if any, may be filed.

Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler on Thursday declined to comment on the case until after he’s seen the entire law enforcement report.

“When they say they’re finished their investigation, we’ll review what materials they have,” Kunzweiler said.

WHAT HAPPENED IN THE SCHOOL BATHROOM
In video footage from the hospital the day of the altercation, February 7th, Benedict explains to an officer that three girls had been picking on them and their friends because of the way they dressed. Benedict, who used they/them pronouns, claims that in the bathroom the students said “something like: why do they laugh like that,” referring to Benedict and their friends.

“And so I went up there and I poured water on them, and then all three of them came at me,” Benedict tells the officer from a hospital bed.

“They came at me. They grabbed on my hair. I grabbed onto them. I threw one of them into a paper towel dispenser and then they got my legs out from under me and got me on the ground,” Benedict says in the video, adding that the girls then started beating Benedict and they blacked out.

The next day, paramedics responded to a 911 call at the family’s house and performed CPR on the teen before rushing them to the hospital, where they later died. The autopsy determined the cause of death to be an overdose of drugs.

HOW HAVE PEOPLE RESPONDED
Benedict’s death has prompted an outpouring of supportive messages from political and social leaders across the country.

On Thursday, Biden said, “In memory of Nex, we must all recommit to our work to end discrimination and address the suicide crisis impacting too many nonbinary and transgender children. Bullying is hurtful and cruel, and no one should face the bullying that Nex did. Parents and schools must take reports of bullying seriously.”

A bipartisan group of Oklahoma legislators also released a joint statement Thursday in which they said Benedict’s death was a “harsh reminder of the power that words have.”

“As public officials and policy makers, we have a sacred obligation to ensure that as we do the work of the people, we do so with respect and dignity. We call on all Oklahomans to join us in our commitment to being respectful and deliberate in our language.”

WHERE ARE CALLS TO YOUTH CRISIS HOTLINES SPIKING
After news of Benedict’s death became public, calls from Oklahoma to a national crisis hotline for LGBTQ+ youths spiked by more than 500%, said Lance Preston, the founder and director of the Indiana-based Rainbow Youth Project USA, a group that aims to improve the safety and wellness of LGBTQ+ young people.

The group’s mental health crisis hotline typically receives an average of 87 calls per week from Oklahoma, a number that jumped to 474 calls in the week after Benedict’s death was reported, Preston said.

For the month of February, calls to the hotline from Oklahoma outpaced calls from Texas and Florida, the two states that have topped the list of calls since the hotline was established several years ago, Preston said.

Trans and LGBTQ+ youth are particularly susceptible to suicidal ideation because they often face discrimination, bigotry, and a lack of acceptance from their families and communities, Preston said.

“We have seen crises increase with school board policies or where school boards are considering policies like forced outing … bathroom policies, ban on athletics, all those things,” Preston said. “Because it makes these kids feel like: ‘I’m not wanted. My government hates me. I’m not wanted here.’”

WHAT ARE THE ANTI-TRANS LAWS IN OKLAHOMA
In recent years Oklahoma’s Republican-led Legislature has passed several new laws targeting transgender and nonbinary people, including bills that prohibit children from receiving gender-affirming medical care and prohibiting the use of nonbinary gender markers on birth certificates.

Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt also has signed bills that prohibit transgender girls and women from playing on female sports teams and prevent transgender children from using school bathrooms that correspond to their gender identity.

Oklahoma’s Superintendent of Public Schools, Ryan Walters, also has embraced anti-trans policies and faced bipartisan blowback for appointing a right-wing social media influencer from New York, known for posting anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric, to a state library panel.

 

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