Family Independently Investigating Nonbinary Teen's Death After Beating

Oklahoma police claim that 16-year-old Nex Benedict's death was not a result of trauma sustained in the attack.

Lawyers for the family of 16-year-old Nex Benedict, a nonbinary Oklahoma high schooler, confirmed to HuffPost that they are working to independently investigate the teen’s sudden death one day after a violent physical attack by other students.

The move comes amid growing calls by advocates for a federal intervention, as Benedict’s death highlighted elected state officials’ hostile policies toward the LGBTQ community.

Police in Oklahoma have put out a statement claiming Benedict did not die as a direct result of the beating they sustained, even though the department said it still does not have all the relevant information.

Benedict was injured as part of a Feb. 7 altercation in an Owasso High School bathroom. According to the Owasso Police Department, after the fight, all of the teens involved “walked under their own power” to see the school nurse and the assistant principal. Benedict received a suspension.

On the afternoon of Feb. 8, Benedict was rushed to a hospital by emergency medics and later died.

Their story, reported early on by local news media, gathered steam on social media and has since attracted national scrutiny.

Benedict’s biological grandmother, Sue Benedict, who was raising them, said in an interview with The Independent that the teenager was being bullied at school.

“I said, ‘You’ve got to be strong and look the other way, because these people don’t know who you are’,” she told the outlet, adding, “I didn’t know how bad it had gotten.”

Owasso police said in a Wednesday statement that “preliminary information from the medical examiner’s office is that a complete autopsy was performed and indicated that the decedent did not die as a result of trauma.”

While the Benedict family acknowledged that the official investigation was still pending, they said in a statement provided to HuffPost on Thursday that “the facts currently known by the family, some of which have been released to the public, are troubling at best.”

In this image provided by Malia Pila, Nex Benedict's sister, Benedict poses outside the family's home in Owasso, in December 2023.
In this image provided by Malia Pila, Nex Benedict's sister, Benedict poses outside the family's home in Owasso, in December 2023.
Sue Benedict via AP

“We urge those tasked with investigating and prosecuting all potentially liable parties to do so fully, fairly and expediently,” the statement read.

“Notwithstanding, the family is independently interviewing witnesses and collecting all available evidence,” the statement continued. “The Benedict Family calls on all school, local, state and national officials to join forces to determine why this happened, to hold those responsible to account and to ensure it never happens again.”

In a letter sent to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland on Wednesday, the Human Rights Campaign urged him and Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona to work together on investigating Nex Benedict’s death, noting that they “each have enforcement mechanisms at their disposal to prevent similar tragedies from taking place.”

“Nex’s life demands justice,” the letter read.

Sue Benedict told The Independent that she was still getting used to Nex Benedict’s chosen pronouns and nonbinary identity.

“I was still learning about it, Nex was teaching me that,” she said.

She also shared that Nex Benedict had been paying attention to Oklahoma’s shift rightward on LGBTQ rights.

In 2022, when a Libs of TikTok post targeted an LGBTQ-friendly Owasso High School teacher, leading to his resignation, Nex Benedict was “very angry about it,” Sue Benedict said to The Independent. The New York woman who runs the extremist account, Chaya Raichik, was named to an Oklahoma library advisory committee by the state’s Republican superintendent last month.

Oklahoma also passed a law in 2022 forcing students to use bathrooms that align with the gender listed on their birth certificate. As a nonbinary person, Nex Benedict said they did not identify as either male or female and used they/them pronouns.

A GoFundMe page for Nex Benedict’s family, paused earlier in the week, has been reactivated.

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