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Trans teen attacked by bullies dies one day later

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Nex Benedict — Photo courtesy of Sue Benedict via AP
Nex Benedict — Photo courtesy of Sue Benedict via AP

Warning: Bullying, violence, transphobia, mention of suicide, mention of death

On February 7, 16-year-old Nex Benedict (he/they) was attacked in a school bathroom in Owasso, Oklahoma, by a group of older girls. The attack lasted only two minutes, but according to a police interview with Benedict, it caused them to "black out." The next day, the Nonbinary Trans teen died. Two weeks later, police have yet to release an official cause of death or confirm that the bullying incident was a hate crime.

The bathroom fight allegedly began when a group of girls mocked Benedict for the way they dressed and laughed. Text messages released by Benedict's mother showed that a group of girls involved in the incident had previously bullied them online. Responding to the girls' jeers, Benedict reportedly splashed water at them. The girls lashed out with physical violence.

Teachers and students broke up the fight and escorted all parties to the nurse's office. School security camera footage showed Benedict staggering and unable to walk in a straight line. School faculty decided to call the students' parents but did not contact an ambulance to address any medical needs. Once Benedict's mother arrived at school, nurses suggested they take Benedict to the hospital for an examination.

Owasso Police Department  

Police discouraged reporting the attack
While at the hospital, Benedict's mother called the police, who arrived and took a statement. In released body-cam footage from the statement, Benedict and their mother repeatedly indicated they wanted to press charges on the girls involved in the fight. The officer seemed hesitant, attempting to discourage Benedict from filing anything official.

"I will also tell you, though, this old saying: 'What's good for the goose is good for the gander,' meaning, the way the courts are going to look at it is as a mutual fight. Both parties are victims. Both parties are also suspects in this," the officer said as Benedict lay in a hospital bed. "Do you get what I'm saying? You're also an offender as well. I will report if that's what you want."

"Yes. That's what I want," they insisted.

"Okay, I'm just letting you know, if the other party wants to do the same thing... the assault [charge] will be on [Benedict] as well," the officer said to Benedict's mother, about the water Benedict splashed on the bully, "because [Benedict] first assaulted, [he's] the one who initiated it originally."

As the interview went on, the officer seemed to defend Benedict's attackers, stating that they had the freedom of speech to say whatever they wanted, but the moment Benedict splashed them, that initiated the fight. "You assaulted someone. You made the first jab," the officer said. "It doesn't make it right, but they defended themselves."

Died the next day
Following the interview and a brief medical evaluation, Benedict was released from the hospital and returned home. The next day, Benedict was rushed back to the hospital after their mother discovered them posturing, struggling to breathe, and their eyes rolling back in their head. These are all symptoms of traumatic brain injury, although official reports have yet to confirm what exactly was occurring to Benedict when they were admitted to the hospital the second time. Within hours, they died.

An official autopsy is expected to be released within a matter of days but has yet to be made public. However, reports from the Owasso Police Department, which has had a chance to examine preliminary autopsy evidence, claim Benedict "did not die as a result of trauma," which has led some to speculate whether Benedict chose to take their own life.

The police have begun investigating the incident for foul play by photographing the bathroom where the fight occurred and swabbing blood stains on the ground. Benedict's family has also hired a private investigator to look into the case. The FBI may begin a separate investigation if the case is deemed a hate crime.

Nate Billings / The Oklahoman via AP  

News of Benedict's death has sparked outrage from LGBTQ+ people, and adversaries across the country have added to the controversy.

On Monday, February 26, over 40 students staged a walkout at Owasso High School in protest of the district's lax bullying policies, which they believe contributed to the death of their classmate.

One of the organizers of the walkout was Kane, a Nonbinary student who previously attended Owasso High School in person but has since transferred to online-only classes due to bullying based on their gender identity and sexuality. "There's been bullying issues. This time, the bullying has gone so far that a student has passed," Kane told reporters following the walkout and five minutes of silence for Benedict.

"To me, it doesn't matter if Nex passed from a traumatic brain injury or if they passed from suicide. What matters is the fact that they died after getting bullied, and that is the story for so many other students. I've been close to ending it myself because of bullying. It's not new for so many students."

Politicians respond to Nex Benedict's death
Oklahoma politicians are also speaking out. Despite passing laws that forced Trans students like Benedict to use school bathrooms based on the sex they were assigned at birth, and banning Trans healthcare in the state, Gov. Kevin Stitt condemned the bullying of Benedict.

"I haven't spoken to the grandmother, but any death by a student is just a tragedy," Stitt said. "There's no bullying allowed in Oklahoma. We're going to prosecute that. I think they're still investigating what happened, but it's an absolute tragedy."

Oklahoma Sen. Tom Woods also addressed the incident on February 24, in a different manner. "As an educator, I took an oath to educate, not indoctrinate. And I'll always take that stand," he said after a citizen asked him about Benedict's death. "My heart goes out to that scenario — if that is the case — but we represent a constituency. We're a Republican state — supermajority — in the House and Senate. I represent a constituency that doesn't want that filth in Oklahoma. You know, we are a religious state. We are going to fight and keep that filth out of the state of Oklahoma, because we're a Christian state."

Remembering Benedict
A funeral was held for Benedict earlier this month, and vigils continue across the country. Friends and family remember Benedict as brave, energetic, and adventurous. Friends recalled Benedict helping them come out, standing up for them, and always concentrating on artistic masterpieces. Their family also recalled Benedict as a kind soul who loved their cats.

Friends and family continue to mourn the loss of yet another Trans kid gone too soon. "When I think about the life that we lost, I feel disappointed," Robin Gray Ingersoll, one of Benedict's friends and former partner, said at their vigil. "Disappointed that he never got the chance to grow up and mature and learn and grow to find his community, and that was taken from him."

This is a developing story.