12-year-old dies by suicide after being told he’d go to hell for being gay, parents say

‘He was told because he didn’t necessarily have a religion and that he said he was gay that he was going to go to hell,’ mother says

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Tuesday 07 December 2021 15:25
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Parents grieve 12-year-old son who died by suicide after homophobic bullying

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A 12-year-old boy has died by suicide after being bullied for being gay, his parents have said.

Eli Fritchley, a seventh-grade student at Cascades Middle school in Shelbyville, south of Nashville in Tennessee, died on 28 November.

A trombone player in the school marching band, his parents told WKRN that Eli was a “peaceful soul” who didn’t hide his true self.

“He didn’t care, or at least we thought he didn’t care, and that’s what’s really difficult for us because we thought he didn’t care,” his mother, Debbey Fritchley, told the local TV station.

Eli liked the colour pink, liked to paint his nails and wore the same clothes, specifically a SpongeBob sweatshirt, almost every day.

“I think probably because he was in the same clothes every single day that they used that as a weapon,” Ms Fritchley said of his bullies, adding that Eli enjoyed doing the laundry, washing his clothes every day.

“He was told because he didn’t necessarily have a religion and that he said he was gay that he was going to go to hell. They told him that quite often,” Ms Fritchley said.

“It was really abusive. I don’t think it was ever physical. I think it was just words, but words hurt. They really hurt,” father Steve Fritchley said.

The parents said their son never put any blame on anyone else and would instead show compassion.

“This has just blindsided us. This is something we would have never, ever expected,” Ms Fritchley said.

She found Eli, who leaves behind five brothers, in his bedroom on Sunday 28 November.

“That’s been really hard. That image was terrible until we got to hold him yesterday. Now that image is gone, because the only thing we could think of yesterday when we were kissing and loving on him was how angelic he looked. He absolutely looked angelic. He’s just an angel,” she told WKRN last week.

“We all failed him. We all failed him. It’s as simple as that,” she added.

Eli Fritchley died by suicide after being bullied for being gay, his parents say

The mother said education is needed “for everyone where bullying is concerned because it is a problem, not just in Bedford County. It’s a problem everywhere”.

Rob and Shondelle Lewis own Penalties Sports Bar & Grill in Shelbyville, where the Fritchley family were regular guests. The restaurant owners started a GoFundMe to help the grief-stricken family start a foundation working to provide education about bullying and suicide.

“I hope and pray, this unfortunate event we are going to make something of it. We’ve got to. We are going to come up with some sort of antibullying program through this GoFundMe page where I pray to God this will not happen again,” Mr Lewis told WKRN.

The couple said they have received a large number of messages from others affected by bullying.

“This is a growing area and I think people need to be more accepting of new people, rather they like them, rather they are the same as them, everybody’s different. Accept them and respect them and parents need to focus on that with their kids more,” Ms Lewis told WKRN.

Bedford County School Superintendent Dr Tammy Garrett said in a statement that “we are absolutely shocked and devastated by this news. Anytime someone takes his or her life, especially a child, it is nearly unbearable. Our hearts go out to his parents and family as they deal with this terrible loss”.

“Raising caring, kind, resilient children is all of our jobs, and parents are not alone,” she added.

If you are experiencing feelings of distress and isolation, or are struggling to cope, the Samaritans offer support; you can speak to someone for free over the phone, in confidence, on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email jo@samaritans.org, or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch.

If you are based in the USA, and you or someone you know needs mental health assistance right now, call National Suicide Prevention Helpline on 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The Helpline is a free, confidential crisis hotline that is available to everyone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

If you are in another country, you can go to www.befrienders.org to find a helpline near you.

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