Oklahoma police are investigating a nonbinary teen's death after a fight in a high school bathroom

Police in Owasso, Oklahoma, are investigating the death of a 16-year-old student who died after being involved in a fight with other students in a high school bathroom

Sean Murphy
Wednesday 21 February 2024 19:01 GMT
Student Death Oklahoma
Student Death Oklahoma (Tulsa World)

Police in Oklahoma are investigating the death of a 16-year-old student who died a day after an altercation in a high school bathroom that may have been prompted by bullying over gender identity.

Neither police nor school officials have said what led to the fight. But the family of Nex Benedict says there had been harassment because the teen was nonbinary.

No cause of death has been released for Nex Benedict, an Owasso High School student in suburban Tulsa who used they/them pronouns. Nex Benedict was able to walk out of the bathroom after the Feb. 7 fight but was taken to a hospital by their family, sent home that night and then died the next day after going back to the hospital.

“What we’re really waiting on is the cause of death, and, of course, we need the toxicology report and the autopsy from the medical examiner’s office for that,” said Owasso Police Lt. Nick Boatman, who said detectives are interviewing staff and students at the school to learn more about what happened.

Nex Benedict's mother, Sue Benedict, told The Independent the teen suffered bruises all over their face and eyes after they and a transgender student got into a fight in a school restroom with three older girls.

“I didn’t know how bad it had gotten,” Sue Benedict told the outlet.

Malia Pila, Nex Benedict’s sister, described her sibling as a “wonderful child that impacted all of us in ways that are difficult to truly articulate in their importance.”

“We’re deeply, deeply sad about their passing,” she wrote in a text message Wednesday to The Associated Press.

Sue Benedict said in a statement on a GoFundMe page set up to help cover funeral expenses that the family was still learning to use the teen's preferred name and pronouns.

“Please do not judge us as Nex was judged, please do not bully us for our ignorance on the subject,” she wrote. “Nex gave us that respect and we are sorry in our grief that we overlooked them.”

Owasso police said in a statement on Tuesday that Nex Benedict died on Feb. 8, the day after the fight at the high school. Boatman said investigators will forward the results of that probe to the local district attorney to determine what, if any, charges should be filed.

When asked if the students involved in the fight could be charged with a hate crime, Boatman said: “All crimes and charges will be on the table.”

School officials in Owasso, a suburb about 13 miles (20 kilometers) northeast of Tulsa, said in a statement a physical altercation occurred in a restroom and that students were in the restroom for less than two minutes before the fight was broken up by other students and a staff member.

After the fight, each of the students “walked under their own power to the assistant principal's office and the nurse's office,” and school officials recommended to the parent of one of the students involved that they visit a medical facility for further examination.

Police said they were not notified of the altercation until the student arrived at the hospital, and that a report was taken at that time. Police said the student was rushed back to the hospital the following day, Feb. 8, and was pronounced dead.

Oklahoma's Republican-led Legislature has passed several new laws targeting transgender and nonbinary people in recent years, including bills that prohibit children from receiving gender-affirming medical care and prohibiting the use of nonbinary gender markers on birth certificates.

Gov. Kevin Stitt also has signed bills that prohibit transgender girls and women from playing on female sports teams and prevent transgender children from using school bathrooms that correspond to their gender identity.

Stitt's office released a statement Wednesday on behalf of the governor and his wife, Sarah.

“Sarah and I are saddened to learn of the death of Nex Benedict, and our hearts go out to Nex’s family, classmates, and the Owasso community," he said. “The death of any child in an Oklahoma school is a tragedy — and bullies must be held accountable.”

Among the many anti-trans bills being considered this year in Oklahoma are measures to ban gender-affirming care for adults, prohibit school employees from using a student's preferred pronouns if they don't correspond with the sex assigned at birth and prohibit state laws or executive orders that recognize any gender besides male and female.

“Policies that discriminate and hateful rhetoric spewed by state officials against transgender youth make our schools less safe and deny youth like Nex the future they deserve,” ACLU Oklahoma said in a statement.

Reporter Philip Marcelo contributed from New York.

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