Death of non-binary teen Nex Benedict ruled a suicide, medical examiner says

Warning: This story contains discussion of suicide and details of physical violence against 2SLGBTQ+ and gender diverse people. 

The death of a non-binary student the day after a fight inside an Oklahoma high school restroom has been ruled a suicide, the state medical examiner’s office said Wednesday.

A summary autopsy report was released more than a month after the death of 16-year-old Nex Benedict, a student at Owasso High School.

Family members said Benedict had been bullied at school and the teenager’s death in February drew concern from 2SLGBTQ+ rights groups who question whether school officials may have overlooked abuse, as well as attention from Oklahoma’s governor and the White House.

The medical examiner’s report shows Benedict had toxic levels of two drugs in their system and died of an overdose. One of those drugs was fluoxetine, sold under the brand name Prozac, which is commonly used to treat depression. The other was an antihistamine, diphenhydramine, commonly used to treat allergies or a common cold.  

“From the beginning of this investigation, Owasso Police observed many indications that this death was the result of suicide,” Owasso Police Department Lt. Nick Boatman said in a statement.

“However, investigators did not wish to confirm that information without the final results being presented by the Oklahoma Medical Examiners Office.”

A person, on the left, sits outside in the evening light, wearing a blue jacket with the words "say their name" in white letters on the back, next to another person with short, purple hair. between them is the image of non-binary teenager Nex Benedict on a large screen.
A photograph of Benedict is projected during a candlelight service at Point A Gallery, in Oklahoma City, on Feb. 24. (Nate Billings/The Oklahoman/The Associated Press)

A lawyer for the Benedict family, Jacob Biby, told The Associated Press that he was working on a statement from the family Wednesday but declined to comment further.

Boatman would not confirm whether or not police found a note from Benedict at the scene.

A complete autopsy will be released in 10 days in accordance with state law, the medical examiner’s office said.

Teen told police officer about bullying incident

Benedict died on Feb. 8, a day after their family reported they were beaten by a group of girls in the bathroom. In a 911 call, Sue Benedict — the teen’s grandmother and legal guardian — had expressed concern about a head injury. Paramedics responded to the family’s house and performed CPR on the teen before rushing them to the hospital, where they later died.

The teenager was conscious and alert after the fight a day earlier when they told police about the attack by three girls that occurred after the teen squirted them with water, according to police video released last month. 

In video footage from the hospital on Feb. 7, Benedict explains to an officer that the girls had been picking on them and their friends because of the way they dressed.

Benedict claims that in the bathroom the students said “something like: ‘Why do they laugh like that?'” referring to Benedict and their friends.

“And so I went up there and I poured water on them, and then all three of them came at me,” Benedict tells the officer from a hospital bed.

LISTEN | Advocate says anti-2SLGBTQ+ legislatior, rhetoric makes kids like Nex Benedict unsafe: 

As It Happens6:43Oklahoma nonbinary teen’s death ‘shocking and devastating,’ says advocate

Advocates call for more accountability from school

The case has drawn scrutiny from 2SLGBTQ+ advocates. Kylan Durant, the president of Oklahoma Pride Alliance, told CBC Radio’s As It Happens in late February that “it’s hard to trust officials and authorities” because the state’s anti-transgender legislation “has created a situation” where a non-binary student has died. 

Benedict’s death has also led to a civil rights investigation by the U.S. Department of Education to determine if any laws were broken or whether the school district failed to respond to harassment.

“Nex died one day after being beaten unconscious in a school bathroom, and following more than a year of bullying and harassment at school. This is heartbreaking,” Kelley Robinson, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement.

Owasso Public Schools (OPS) on Wednesday called Benedict’s death “devastating” and offered counselling, but did not address the bullying accusations.

“As we mourn together, OPS remains focused on the safety and well-being of our students and staff. Let’s continue to lean on each other in the days ahead,” Superintendent Margaret Coates said in an open letter.

Brandon Dilawari, a case manager at Rainbow Youth Project USA, an Indiana-based group that aims to improve the safety and wellness of 2SLGBTQ+ young people, said Benedict’s case is “not an isolated incident by any means.”

“Bullying and harassment have a significant impact on students and, tragically, many of these youths believe that suicide is the only option for peace.”

The group reported a dramatic spike in calls from Oklahoma to its national crisis hotline after news of the teen’s death became public.

If you or someone you know is struggling, here’s where to get help:

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