News (USA)

Teen dies a day after brutal beating in a school bathroom bullying attack

Nex Benedict is a white, non-binary, 16-year-old who died after a bathroom fight in Owasso High School in Owasso, Oklahoma
Nex Benedict Photo: GoFundMe

Nex Benedict — a nonbinary, Native American, 16-year-old sophomore — was reportedly beaten to death on February 7 by three older female students in the bathroom of Owasso High School in Oklahoma. The school neither called an ambulance for the injured teen nor informed police of the attack until Benedict was later admitted into the hospital — Benedict died the next day.

Web commenters are blaming Oklahoma’s top education official, Ryan Walters, for Benedict’s death as Walters has pushed inflammatory anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric during his tenure. Walters also recently hired anti-LGBTQ+ hate activist Chaya Raichik, who goes by Libs of TikTok on social media, for a state school book-banning committee after she targeted the Owasso school district for employing a pro-LGBTQ+ teacher who was later fired.

“I know at one point, one of the girls was pretty much repeatedly beating [Benedict’s] head across the floor,” a person who identified herself as the friend of Benedict’s mother told KRJH. Though a teacher eventually walked into the bathroom to stop the fight, the friend added, “She couldn’t walk to the nurses’ station on her own, and staff didn’t call the ambulance, which amazes me.” (The self-identified friend’s quotes were later removed from KRJH’s article.)

Though the hospital released Benedict on the same day of the attack, they returned to the hospital the following day and then died while hospitalized. The aforementioned friend claimed the teen’s death was caused by “complications from brain trauma.” The school and Owasso Police Department have both refused to comment as the investigation into the teen’s death remains ongoing.

In a letter to parents, Owasso Public Schools said it would increase security personnel, update safety drills and its rules on disciplinary violations and hall supervision, and provide additional student resources, including on-campus counselors to speak with students distressed over Benedict’s death.

A GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign raised $27,836 for costs associated with Benedict’s death. A memorial service for Benedict was held at Mowery Funeral Service Chapel on February 15. Local outlets reporting the story have repeatedly misgendered and deadnamed Benedict.

Benedict was an animal lover, had a cat named Zeus, loved cooking, made up their own recipes, and was a straight-A student, Benedict’s mother said. Benedict also liked creative arts, drawing, and loved video games like Ark and Minecraft, according to PGH Lesbian Correspondents. Benedict also loved rock music, was “unfailingly kind,” “always searched for the best in people,” and was a Cherokee Nation citizen, the state LGBTQ+ organization Freedom Oklahoma wrote in a post memorializing the teen.

“Growing anti-2SLGBTQ+ sentiments our youngest community members are facing more often [are] fueled by state law and the rhetoric around it, words and actions of our state elected officials, and the growing platforms those in power are giving to people like Chaya Raichik who continues to use her platform in a way that leads others to threaten real harm at Oklahoma kids,” Freedom Oklahoma wrote.

PGH Lesbian Correspondents wrote, “Rest in power, Nex. You endured a lot in your short life. We repeatedly did not show up for you. But you deserved better – a long, healthy, and happy life. The opportunity to simply grow up. An education setting where you didn’t fear for your life. And you deserve to be acknowledged and validated for your true identity, in your own words. I can’t imagine your terror during this assault and afterwards as your life drained away. I hope you find peace and justice now. May your memory be a revolution.”

In January, the right-wing superintendent of the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE), Ryan Walters, appointed Raichik to serve on the OSDE’s Library Media Advisory Committee, a committee that decides what state public school students are allowed to read, even though Raichik doesn’t live in the state and has no experience working in education.

In 2022, Raichik targeted a pro-LGBTQ+ Owasso teacher who supported queer students. Raichik’s post targeting the teacher resulted in “the teacher getting condemned and harassed until they resigned,” Daily Kos reported. Raichik later deleted the post for unknown reasons.

Raichik’s posts accusing a Western Heights Public Schools principal of being a drag performer and various Oklahoma schools of having “pornographic” library books resulted in bomb threats against the schools. In August 2023, Walters came under criticism for re-posting a video of Raichik’s that resulted in bomb threats against Ellen Ochoa Elementary School in Tulsa.

Raichik has achieved national infamy as her posts targeting LGBTQ+ educators and allies have led to multiple bomb and death threats against schools, teachers, students, and children’s hospitals — including two Oklahoma schools. She is expected to advance Walters’s crusade against LGBTQ+-inclusive books in public schools.

Walters, who wants to ban LGBTQ+ books but teach the Bible in public school history classes, has previously pushed the transphobic lie about schools providing litterboxes to students who identify as cats. He also referred to teachers’ unions as “terrorist organizations” and illegally tried to make rules banning LGBTQ+ books and transgender bathroom access in schools. He has appeared at events hosted by Moms for Liberty, a right-wing anti-LGBTQ+ “parent’s rights” group that has been called an extremist hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

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