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Tulsa County prosecutor won't pursue charges in Owasso teenager's death

Nex Benedict
Nex Benedict

Local prosecutors will not file charges related to the death of Nex Benedict.

Benedict, a nonbinary 16-year-old Owasso High School student, died by suicide in February after a fight with three girls in a school bathroom. Benedict told police they threw water on the girls after they picked on them, and Benedict blacked out as the girls beat them on the floor.

The cover sheet from the report from the state medical examiner’s office released last week shows Benedict had a mix of prescription and over-the-counter medication in their system following their death.

Bullying someone to attempt or complete suicide is a felony in Oklahoma, but Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler says there is not enough evidence to prosecute.

“From all of the evidence gathered, this fight was an instance of mutual combat,” Kunzweiler said in a news release Thursday. Before their death, a school resource officer told Benedict and their mother that the courts would likely view the fight this way.

Owasso police reportedly found notes Benedict wrote prior to their death. Kunzweiler said the notes “appeared to be related to the suicide” and were an important part of the police investigation.

“Although the notes do not make any reference to the earlier fight or difficulties at school, the parents indicated that Benedict reported being picked upon for various reasons while at school,” Kunzweiler said.

Kunzweiler said the contents of the note are “a personal matter” left to Benedict’s family.

While Kunzweiler has decided not to prosecute, he still called Benedict’s death a tragedy, and said there are insufficient resources in the United States to sufficiently address suicides.

Attorneys from Biby Law Firm representing Benedict’s family say injuries Benedict sustained in the fight were significant even if their death was ruled a suicide. The attorneys claim the full medical examiner’s report – which has not yet been released to the public – shows Benedict had bruises and cuts on their head, blood in their eye and bruises on their torso consistent with a resuscitation attempt.

In a statement Thursday afternoon, Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation President Sarah Kate Ellis said Kunzweiler, Owasso police, the school district and the medical examiner's office "have failed Nex Benedict and failed us all."

"It is critical that an independent investigation is completed and the truth about what happened to Nex, and what all marginalized youth in Oklahoma schools endure, is brought to light," said Ellis.

The case has prompted demonstrations across the country, a federal investigation into Owasso Public Schools and a push to update bullying laws at the state level.

Help is available

Stories like these can often negatively impact the mental health of 2SLGBTQ+ people. There are resources available for those seeking mental health support.

  • Trans Lifeline is a suicide hotline for trans people, run by transgender volunteers. Their hotline number is 877-565-8860.
  • If you are a young person in crisis, feeling suicidal, or in need of a safe and judgment-free place to talk, you can contact The Trevor Project's Trevor Lifeline 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386, via chat every day or by texting "START" to 678-678.
Max Bryan is a news anchor and reporter for KWGS.
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