News (USA)

Nex Benedict’s death ruled a suicide by medical examiner

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

The Oklahoma state medical examiner’s office has ruled Nex Benedict’s death a suicide.

The 16-year-old Owasso High School sophomore of Choctaw descent died on February 8, a day after a violent altercation with three other students in a school bathroom in which he was reportedly beaten until he blacked out. Benedict, who friends and family say identified as trans and primarily went by he/him pronouns at school, reportedly told his mother, Sue Benedict, that he had been bullied by the three other students because of his gender identity.

Benedict’s death has led to widespread outcry from the LGBTQ+ community and allies, as well as speculation that his death was a direct result of injuries he sustained during the incident in the bathroom at Owasso High School.

But on Wednesday, the Oklahoma state medical examiner’s report on Benedict’s cause of death was made public. The report listed the probable cause of death as “combined toxicity” from diphenhydramine and fluoxetine.

According to The Hill the full medical examiner’s report will be released on March 27.

“From the beginning of this investigation, Owasso Police observed many indications that this death was the result of suicide,” the Owasso Police Department said in a statement released via Facebook Wednesday evening. “However, investigators did not wish to confirm that information without the final results being presented by the Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s Office.”

Owasso Police previously released preliminary information from an autopsy indicating that Benedict “did not die as a result of trauma.” OPD spokesperson Lieutenant Nick Boatman, however, subsequently told investigative news site Popular Information that the medical examiner never specifically said that Nex “did not die from something as a result of that fight.”

In a letter to families and teachers Owasso Public Schools superintendent Margaret Coates said Wednesday that Benedict’s death was “devastating.”

“We understand that the information released today may bring up additional thoughts, feelings and emotions for students and staff members,” Coates wrote, according to NBC News.

“As parents, we send our kids to school expecting that they will be safe and cared for. Nex was failed by so many and should still be here today,” Kelley Robinson, president of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) said in a statement following the release of the medical examiner’s report. “We have heard from so many parents and students that this culture of bullying and harassment is both pervasive at Owasso Public Schools and that many within the school had actual knowledge that it was occurring and took no steps to fix it.”

Following widespread outcry from the LGBTQ+ community and advocacy organizations, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) that it would launch an investigation into the Owasso Public Schools to determine whether the district “failed to appropriately respond to alleged harassment of students” in accordance with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (a federal law which forbids sex-based discrimination) and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (a federal law which forbids discrimination based on gender dysphoria, including trans and nonbinary identity).

HRC has also called for an investigation of Oklahoma’s anti-LGBTQ+ Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters and the Oklahoma State Department of Education. Prior to Benedict’s death, Walters already faced widespread criticism from both Republican and Democratic state lawmakers for appointing New York-based hate influencer and former real estate agent Chaya Raichik, who operates the anti-LGBTQ+ social media account Libs of TikTok, to Oklahoma’s library advisory committee in January. Multiple LGBTQ+ advocacy and civil rights organizations have called for Walters’ ouster.

Last week, Rainbow Youth Project reported a staggering 238 percent rise in crisis calls coming from Oklahoma in the weeks since Benedict’s death. And this week, the Washington Post published a report based on FBI data indicating that anti-LGBTQ+ hate crimes in K–12 schools have more than quadrupled in states where Republican lawmakers have enacted legislation targeting the community.

In a statement to ABC News Wednesday, Freedom Oklahoma said that Benedict’s death highlights the stakes for trans and gender-nonconforming students in schools. “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 statement read. “Nex’s death occurred during a nationwide effort to push 2SLGBTQ+ people out of public life and back into the closets.”

If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or chat at The Trans Lifeline (1-877-565-8860) is staffed by trans people and will not contact law enforcement. The Trevor Project provides a safe, judgment-free place to talk for youth via chat, text (678-678), or phone (1-866-488-7386). Help is available at all three resources in English and Spanish.

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