What We Know About the Death of Oklahoma Teen Nex Benedict

Photo: Benedict family

Oklahoma high school student Nex Benedict died by suicide on February 8, a medical examiner said in a report released on Wednesday. The 16-year-old, who family and friends say was transgender and used “he” and “they” pronouns, was relentlessly bullied for their gender identity, according to the people closest to him. Nex died one day after a physical altercation with three other students in a high-school bathroom. The case has drawn national attention as Oklahoma lawmakers continue to attack LGBTQ+ rights and pass some of the harshest anti-trans laws in the nation. Here’s everything we know.

Who was Nex Benedict?

Nex was ​​a sophomore at Owasso High School, which is located in a suburb northeast of Tulsa. The teen lived with their biological grandmother, Sue Benedict, and her husband, Walter, who raised Nex since they were an infant and formally adopted them a few years ago. Though initial reports said Nex identified as nonbinary, his friends and family have since clarified that he identified as transgender and used he/they pronouns.

The family said Nex was a “great kid” and straight-A student who loved reading, cooking, playing video games such as Minecraft, and their cat, Zeus. Benedict told the Independent that Nex was patient with his parents whenever they used an incorrect pronoun or mistakenly called them by their birth name. “I was so proud of Nex,” she said. “They were going some place, they were so free.”

Though some media reports indicated that Nex was a citizen of Cherokee Nation, Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. issued a statement saying that their database showed Nex lived within the reservation but was not a tribe member.

What happened with this fight at school?

According to school administrators, Nex was in the girls’ bathroom with another transgender student on February 7 when he got into a physical altercation with three other students. Footage from hallway cameras released by police shows a group of students going from the high school cafeteria to the restroom. It also shows Nex filling up a bottle at a water fountain outside the restroom before going in with two other students. The fight reportedly lasted about two minutes before classmates and a staff member broke it up. Nex and the other students were escorted to the assistant principal’s and nurse’s offices, where their statements were taken. Police said the school nurse determined that no one involved in the fight needed an ambulance; however, the nurse still recommended that Nex be taken to a medical facility for further examination.

Neither the school administration nor police has said what caused the fight. But Nex’s family members say that the altercation was due to the ongoing bullying Nex experienced over their gender identity. Benedict first learned that Nex was being bullied in early 2023, she told the Independent. When she arrived to pick up Nex after the fight, she said the teen was badly beaten—there were bruises across their face and scratches on the back of their head. She was furious that the school had not contacted an ambulance or the police, and she said administrators told her Nex was suspended for two weeks. Benedict then took Nex to Bailey Medical Center in Owasso. There, the teen underwent an MRI, their cousin Victoria “Tori” Broene told the Washington Post. Benedict also contacted police to report the fight while at the medical center; police said that was the first time they were notified of any altercation.

Police later released body camera footage of a school resource officer, Caleb Thompson, interviewing Nex at the hospital. In the footage, Nex said that, while he didn’t know the three girls involved in the fight, the students had been “antagonizing” them and made fun of his clothes before. Nex added he had told his grandmother about it and she advised it was best to ignore the girls. Nex also said he didn’t tell school administrators about the verbal abuse because he “didn’t really see the point.”

The teen told Thompson that as he talked to their friends in the bathroom earlier that day, the three girls once again made fun of them. Nex said they poured water from a bottle on the students and an altercation broke out. They grabbed Nex by the hair, and the teen retaliated by throwing one of them into a paper towel dispenser. “And then they got my legs out from under me and got me on the ground and started beating the shit out of me,” Nex told the officer. “And then my friends tried to jump in and help but I’m not sure, I blacked out.”

That tracks with what Next told a family member in messages obtained by local outlet Fox23:“I got jumped at school 3 on 1 had to go to the ER.” When asked if they were doing okay, the teen replied that he had some “scrapes and bruises,” and “if I’m dizzy or nauseous in the morning I might have a concussion.” Nex added that the fight happened because “they had been bullying me and my friends and I got tired of it so I poured some water on them and all 3 came after me.”

How did Nex die?

Benedict told the Independent that Nex was discharged from the medical center on the day of the fight, and in the evening went to bed with a sore head. The next afternoon, Nex collapsed in the family living room. Benedict called an ambulance and by the time emergency personnel arrived at the house, Nex had stopped breathing. He was rushed to St. Francis Pediatric Emergency Room, where medical staff declared them dead. His funeral was held on February 15.

Police said on February 21 that a preliminary autopsy showed Nex did not die as a result of trauma. A medical examiner report released on March 13 determined that the cause of death was suicide. Authorities told ABC News that while police had suspected Nex died by suicide, they refrained from sharing this information with the public until confirming the final results from the medical examiner’s office.

How has the school district responded?

Owasso Public Schools has declined to share further information about the case, citing the police investigation and federal privacy laws. “The loss of a student, a member of the Ram Family and the Owasso community, is devastating,” a spokesperson said in a statement to the Cut. “We recognize the impact that this event has had on the entire school community and it is our priority to foster an environment where everyone feels heard, supported, and safe.”

What attacks are the LGBTQ community facing in Oklahoma right now?

Nex’s death comes after Oklahoma lawmakers targeted transgender and non-binary people in recent years with several measures, including banning children from receiving gender-affirming medical care, prohibiting trans minors from using the school bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity, prohibiting the use of non-binary gender markers on birth certificates, and blocking trans girls and women from playing on female sports teams. More than 50 bills targeting the LGBTQ+ community are under consideration this legislative session alone, including a ban on gender-affirming care for adults, a measure blocking school staff from using a student’s preferred pronouns, and a bill prohibiting Oklahomans from amending their birth certificate to reflect their gender identity.

Last year, Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt also signed an executive order that defines an individual’s sex as the “biological sex” at birth. Superintendent Ryan Walters, who oversees the state’s public schools, has also been a vocal critic of transgender rights. He recently appointed Chaya Raichik — a far-right influencer who runs the social media account Libs of TikTok, which previously targeted a teacher at Nex’s school—to a state library advisory board.

What’s next in the case?

The U.S. Department of Education announced on March 1 that it had opened a federal investigation into whether Owasso Public Schools had violated federal law by failing “to appropriately respond to alleged harassment of students.”

A family friend also established a GoFundMe to help cover funeral expenses. The fundraiser is under Nex’s deadname, which the family apologized for. “We are sorry for not using their name correctly and as parents we were still learning the correct forms,” an update reads. “Please do not judge us as Nex was judged, please do not bully us for our ignorance on the subject. Nex gave us that respect and we are sorry in our grief that we overlooked them.” The donations have surpassed $160,000, and the family says that most of it “will go to other children dealing with the right to be who they feel they are, in Nex Benedict’s name.”

This story has been updated. In the U.S., the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 988 (call or text) or 988lifeline.org (chat).

What We Know About the Death of Oklahoma Teen Nex Benedict