LGBTQ teen Nex Benedict died by suicide, medical examiner says

Nex died one day after getting into a physical altercation with other students.

March 14, 2024, 6:34 PM

Oklahoma 16-year-old Nex Benedict died by suicide, according to an autopsy report summary released Wednesday by the state's Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. The full report will be released on March 27.

Benedict, a member of the 2SLGBTQ community, died one day after getting into a physical fight with several other students at Owasso High School.

Benedict was nonbinary and went by they/them pronouns, according to Benedict's family. 2SLGBTQ includes Two Spirit, an umbrella term used to describe a third gender in Native and Indigenous communities. Sue Benedict, their mother, is a registered member of the Choctaw Nation.

Freedom Oklahoma, a political advocacy group that fights for LGBTQ+ issues, said in a statement to ABC News that Benedict's death highlights attacks on the transgender and gender non-conforming community.

"2STGNC+ students are the ones at risk; they are under attack in their schools, and they are under a coordinated attack by extremist politicians who care more about soundbites than children’s lives," the organization's statement read. "Nex’s death occurred during a nationwide effort to push 2SLGBTQ+ people out of public life and back into the closets."

PHOTO: People gather outside the Stonewall Inn for a memorial and vigil for the Oklahoma teenager who died following a fight in a high school bathroom on Feb. 26, 2024, in New York City.
People gather outside the Stonewall Inn for a memorial and vigil for the Oklahoma teenager who died following a fight in a high school bathroom on Feb. 26, 2024, in New York City.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images, FILE

Anti-LGBTQ bullying and violence have been the center of conversation in the aftermath of Benedict's death earlier this month, as Benedict's family called for action and answers concerning the bullying they say Nex faced in school.

"The Benedicts know all too well the devastating effects of bullying and school violence, and pray for meaningful change wherein bullying is taken seriously and no family has to deal with another preventable tragedy," the family said via their attorney in a statement to ABC News.

LGBTQ+ youth are at greater risk for poor mental health, bullying and violence than their non-LGBTQ+ peers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which encourages schools to implement supportive policies and practices for students who will in turn experience better health outcomes.

LGBTQ students are also more likely to seriously consider suicide or attempt than their non-LGBTQ peers, the CDC reports.

The Department of Education has opened an investigation into Owasso Public Schools following a complaint from the Human Rights Campaign related to such concerns.

"Bullying in any form is unacceptable," the district said in a past statement. "We take reports of bullying very seriously and have policies and procedures in place to address such behavior."

Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond has raised concerns over the role bullying played in Benedict's death by suicide, saying his heart is "broken."

"Combating this problem likely means strengthening laws against bullying, as well as increasing emphasis on mental health services," he said in a post on X. "Perhaps most immediately it means rejecting the cruelty of words and actions so often inflicted by other students, adults and algorithms on our youngest generations."

PHOTO: Nex Benedict, 16, died one day after a physical altercation with other students in their Oklahoma school.
Nex Benedict, 16, died one day after a physical altercation with other students in their Oklahoma school.
Courtesy Sue Benedict

President Joe Biden said that he and first lady Jill Biden are "heartbroken" by the loss of Benedict in a statement Thursday. Biden added that Benedict should "still be here with us today."

"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," Biden said in the statement. "Bullying is hurtful and cruel, and no one should face the bullying that Nex did."

Local lawmakers have come under fire for anti-LGBTQ legislation and rhetoric following Benedict's death, with open calls for removals against Oklahoma State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters, who has spoken out in favor of anti-LGBTQ policies.

"To make sure that all individuals are safe in a school, we want every student to be protected, we want every student to be successful," Walters told ABC News in an interview recently. "That also means we're not going to lie to students. And we're not going to push a gender ideology."

An open letter signed by about 350 local, state and national organizations called for his removal.

In a statement to ABC News, the Owasso Police Department said it suspected the cause of Benedict's death, but refrained from saying anything pending the results of the medical examiner's office.

"From the beginning of this investigation, Owasso Police observed many indications that this death was the result of suicide. However, investigators did not wish to confirm that information without the final results being presented by the Oklahoma Medical Examiners Office," the police said in a statement.

"The Oklahoma Medical Examiner's report has now been made public," the statement continued, adding, "The Owasso Police Department would like to take this moment to inform anyone in crisis or contemplating suicide of the Oklahoma Mental Health Lifeline, just call or text 988."

In a statement released through their lawyers on Thursday, Benedict's family urged people to "await the release of the full report." The family said they want to "ensure other pertinent portions of the report are not overshadowed by the 'classification' of Nex's death."

"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. As outlined in the full report, the Medical Examiner found numerous areas of physical trauma over Nex’s body that evidence the severity of the assault," their statement continued.

The family also called on education officials and lawmakers to "come together to prevent any other family from having to suffer through the heartache now borne by Nex’s loved ones."

"Reforms creating school environments that are built upon the pillars of respect, inclusion and grace, and aim to eliminate bullying and hate, are the types of change that all involved should be able to rally behind," their statement read.

The Human Rights Campaign released a statement condemning anti-LGBTQ violence and bullying following the release of the medical examiner's report.

“As parents, we send our kids to school expecting that they will be safe and cared for," the statement read. "Nex was failed by so many and should still be here today. We hold their family in our hearts as they grapple with the devastating reality that their beloved child, a teen with a bright future, is no longer making this world a brighter place."

If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide or worried about a friend or loved one, call or text the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 for free, confidential emotional support 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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