Police Say They Haven’t Ruled Out Fight As a Factor in Nex Benedict’s Death

This article contains a description of violence against a gender nonconforming person.

Police in Owasso, Oklahoma say they have not ruled out the fight at school as a cause in the death of 16-year-old Nex Benedict earlier this month, after initially stating that the high schooler did not die as a result of “trauma.”

Benedict, whom friends say used he/him and they/them pronouns, died suddenly on February 8 following an alleged attack in an Owasso High School (OHS) girl’s bathroom the previous day. In video footage of a police interview released by the Owasso Police Department (OPD), the trans teen, who was of Choctaw ancestry, said he was physically beaten by three older girls. Benedict’s mother, Sue, told The Independent that during the fight, Nex had hit his head on the floor and afterward, had bruising around his eyes and scratches on the back of his head. But on February 21, the Owasso police department (OPD) said preliminary findings from Benedict’s autopsy indicated they “did not die as a result of trauma,” leading some news media to report that the fight played no role in their death.

In comments to NBC this week, OPD spokesperson Lt. Nick Boatman clarified that the department did not believe the fight was wholly unrelated to Benedict’s death. “We did not interpret that in any way,” Boatman said, referring to the term “trauma” as it appeared in the medical report, and added that “people shouldn’t make assumptions either way.” Boatman also told NBC the department has no timeline on when toxicology reports will be completed, saying such reports can take months, and confirmed no arrests had been made nor charges filed in the case as of February 26.

Boatman said that OPD released its statement last week in response to a “fury of misinformation on social media,” including the allegation that Benedict needed to be carried to the school nurse’s office on February 7, which Boatman claimed was untrue. That allegation seems to have originated from an anonymous source who spoke to local news station KJRH shortly after Benedict’s death, claiming to be the mother of the other victim of the attack.

In bodycam footage of OPD officer Caleb Thompson’s interview with Benedict and their mother on February 7, Benedict alleges that the three attackers were girls who had bullied them and their friends for at least a week, by calling them names and throwing things at them “[b]ecause of the way we dress.” Benedict said that day he poured water on one of the girls in retaliation, after which “they came at me [….] started beating the shit out of me,” he recalled. Thompson can be heard in the video responding that if charges were filed, a court could find Benedict at fault because he “initiated” the fight, which would likely be seen as “mutual.”

“[He’s] the one who started the domino effect. If [he] had never done that, we may not even be here,” Thompson tells Nex and their mother Sue Benedict in the video.

Roughly 40 of the teen’s classmates at OHS staged a walkout on Monday protesting what they described as unchecked anti-LGBTQ+ bullying at their school. LGBTQ+ and Native communities throughout Oklahoma have mourned Benedict’s untimely passing, as adults and students alike gave voice to their grief at a candlelight vigil in Owasso on February 25.

“For some reason, it’s like I’m always looking for them wherever I go, even though I was there at the funeral,” Benedict’s classmate Ally told mourners at the Sunday night vigil. “I always look for them in crowds, and I’m still waiting for them to come back to our class. I do miss them a lot.”

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