Oklahoma medical examiner rules Nex Benedict’s death a suicide

Oklahoma medical examiner rules Nex Benedict’s death a suicide

Oklahoma high school student Nex Benedict died from suicide, the state medical examiner’s office ruled Wednesday, ending more than a month of speculation.

The 16-year-old, who identified under the two-spirit, transgender and gender-nonconforming umbrella, died Feb. 8 after ingesting a lethal amount of antihistamines and antidepressants, according to a summary report obtained by The Hill.

The full medical examiner’s report will be released March 27, per Oklahoma law.

Benedict, a sophomore at Owasso High School, collapsed at home on Feb. 8, one day after they were involved in what the school district and local authorities described as a physical altercation in a bathroom at school.

Sue Benedict, Benedict’s grandmother whom they called mom, said she took Benedict to the hospital both immediately after the fight and the following day. In body camera footage released last month by Owasso Police, Benedict said they were “jumped” in the bathroom on Feb. 7 by three girls they did not know.

Benedict in the video said they threw water at the girls after the girls made fun of the way Benedict and another student dressed, and the girls responded by punching them.

Sue Benedict in an interview with The Independent in February said Benedict had been bullied at school since at least the beginning of last year.

Benedict’s district, Owasso Public Schools, said in a Feb. 20 statement it followed all its protocols after the fight, including giving the students involved a health assessment by a registered nurse and informing parents of the option to file a police report.

Owasso Police said Wednesday investigators had long suspected that the cause of Benedict’s death was suicide.

“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 Examiner’s Office,” police said in a statement.

Benedict’s death has reverberated through the LGBTQ community and cast a national spotlight on Oklahoma schools.

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The Education Department announced earlier this month it is opening an investigation into allegations made by the Human Rights Campaign, a national LGBTQ advocacy organization, that Owasso Public Schools failed to respond to sex-based harassment that may have contributed to Benedict’s death.

“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,” Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson said Wednesday in a statement that followed 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,” Robinson said.

Current and former Owasso students told The Oklahoman late last month that the Tulsa suburb of about 40,000 has a long history of bullying that targets LGBTQ people.

Lance Preston, the founder and executive director of the Rainbow Youth Project, told reporters last week that calls to the group’s emergency hotline have skyrocketed since Feb. 16, when Benedict’s death began receiving widespread media attention. Most Oklahoma callers reported instances of bullying, he said.

Hundreds of LGBTQ and civil rights organizations in the wake of Benedict’s death called for the removal of Ryan Walters, Oklahoma’s top education official, in a letter to Oklahoma House leadership. Oklahoma’s constitution grants authority to the state House to begin impeachment proceedings against elected officials.

Walters, an outspoken critic of policies that accommodate transgender individuals, has described transgender students as a danger to their classmates.

The Human Rights Campaign has called for a separate federal investigation into Walters and the Oklahoma State Department of Education, citing Walters’s “troubling history of transphobic and racist behavior” and his appointment of Chaya Raichik, the conservative activist behind Libs of TikTok, to a state library advisory board.

—Updated at 6:15 p.m.

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