TAYLORSVILLE, Utah — The parents of 14-year-old David Phan, an openly gay student who shot and killed himself in front of horrified classmates on November 29, are speaking out and accusing school officials of “mishandling” the situation that led to their son’s death.
Phan, an eighth grader, had been suspended from Bennion Junior High in this southern Salt Lake City suburb, for bringing a condom to school, according to his parents.
The Salt Lake City Tribune reported that the day David committed suicide, his mother, Phuong Tran, said she was called at work by the principal, who informed her David had been suspended:
When she arrived and asked for an explanation, Tran said school officials brushed her off, perhaps because of her heavy accent.
Here is what she understood: Another student had complained — had David made a sexual overture? — and when district officials searched David’s backpack, they found a condom, Tran said.
“I asked [the principal] why he was suspending my son,” Tran said. “He told me: ‘We will discuss on Tuesday.’”
Nhuan Phan, the teen’s father, added: “We have a right to know as parents. Nobody told us anything.”
Afterward, Tran took her son home, asked him if everything was all right and if he wanted lunch. After being reassured by him, she returned to work.
They were the last words between the mother and son.
Later, Phuong Tran found a suicide note in David’s room that read: “I had a great life but I must leave.”
David reportedly returned to school that afternoon after grabbing a 22-caliber pistol loaded with a single round. At around 3 p.m., upon reaching the pedestrian bridge that leads to the school, David shot himself while students watched in horror.
Family members told the Tribune that David had come out to his older brother and other family members about a year ago, then about three months ago to his mother, and finally, to his father.
What has sparked outrage for the family was a series of public statements made by Granite School District spokesperson Ben Horsley after the their son’s death, describing David as a teen with “significant personal challenges on multiple fronts.”
Family members said they were particularly offended by statements Horsley made to the media the day after their son’s suicide:
“There appears to be ongoing rumors throughout social media and reported in the news media that the student was being bullied. This is of particular grave concern to the school and district.
“There is an indication that the student reported a bullying concern several years ago. Consequently, school administration and counselors have stayed in close contact with him since that time.
“Counselors have further remained in close regular contact with (him) because of other issues in his personal life. Despite specific personal inquiries, David never reported any further bullying concerns and on the contrary, reported that things were going well.”
Both of Phan’s parents said they were unaware of any school counseling of a personal nature.
On Saturday, clarified that he was referring to “guidance” counselors David had spoken with, not a mental health specialist.
The family has since reached out to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Utah.
“David’s parents have expressed deep concern that since the tragic incident, Granite School District officials, and particularly district spokesman Ben Horsley, have been extremely inappropriate in their public statements about David and his family,” wrote John Mejia, a legal director for the ACLU, in a letter to School District Superintendent Martin Bates.
“We urge you to immediately cease and desist from any further release to the public of any information about David and his family,” Mejia wrote.
The family has also enlisted the help of Steven Ha, the Director of Family Services Asian Association of Utah who has ties to both the Vietnamese and LGBTQ communities, to learn more about adversity facing LGBT youth.
Ha told the Tribune that he will introduce the Phan family to local gay activists and assemble a group to address several issues, primarily suicide prevention for gay-ethnic youth.
“We’re not interested in suing but working with credible sources. That’s how we want David to be remembered,” Ha said.