Medical examiner says Nex Benedict died by suicide

Nex Benedict.
Nex Benedict.

The Oklahoma Medical Examiner on March 13 released a one-page autopsy report stating that 16-year-old Nex Benedict died by suicide caused by an overdose.

Benedict, a non-binary student whose Feb. 8 death came one day after they suffered injuries in a fight at Owasso High School, died due to “diphenhydramine and fluoxetine combined toxicity,” according to the report, which was obtained by Gay City News. Diphenhydramine is an antihistamine used in Benadryl, while fluoxetine is found in Prozac and is commonly prescribed for depression.

The medical examiner stated that the report is a partial one and that further information would be released in 10 business days.

“From the beginning of this investigation, Owasso Police observed many indications that this death was the result of suicide,” the Owasso Police Department said in a statement on March 13. “However, investigators did not wish to confirm that information without the final results being presented by the Oklahoma Medical Examiners Office. The Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s report has now been made public.”

Police body camera footage released in recent weeks showed an officer interviewing Benedict and their grandmother, Sue Benedict, in the hours after the Feb. 7 altercation. Benedict recalled overhearing other students voicing statements like “why do they laugh like that,” prompting the teen to approach the students and pour water on them. Those students, Benedict said, also previously made fun of them for the way they dressed.

“They grabbed onto my hair; I grabbed onto them,” Benedict said. “I threw one of them into a paper towel dispenser. Then they got my legs out from under me, got me on the ground, and started beating the shit out of me. And then my friends tried to jump in and help, and I’m not sure, I blacked out.”

The following day, Benedict collapsed in their living room before they were scheduled to leave for an appointment, prompting their grandmother to call 911. An audio clip released from the 911 call features Benedict’s grandmother telling emergency responders that Nex “got beat up at school yesterday… I don’t know if it’s from [their] head injury because the girls that beat [them] up knocked [them] to the ground and [they] hit [their] head on the back of the floor…” At the time of the call, Benedict had breathing problems and their eyes were “rolling back,” their grandmother said.

Following the release of the medical examiner’s report, Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond, a Republican, posted on X, saying his “heart is broken over the tragic death of Nex Benedict.”

“The Medical Examiner’s finding of suicide makes me even more concerned that bullying played a role in this terrible loss,” Drummond said.

President Joe Biden issued a lengthy written statement after the medical examiner’s announcement.

“Jill and I are heartbroken by the recent loss of Nex Benedict,” Biden said. “Every young person deserves to have the fundamental right and freedom to be who they are, and feel safe and supported at school and in their communities. Nex Benedict, a kid who just wanted to be accepted, should still be here with us today. Nonbinary and transgender people are some of the bravest Americans I know. But nobody should have to be brave just to be themselves.”

He added: “In memory of Nex, we must all recommit to our work to end discrimination and address the suicide crisis impacting too many nonbinary and transgender children. Bullying is hurtful and cruel, and no one should face the bullying that Nex did. Parents and schools must take reports of bullying seriously. My prayers are with Nex’s family, friends, and all who loved them – and to all LGBTQI+ Americans for whom this tragedy feels so personal, know this: I will always have your back. To LGBTQI+ young people across the country – you are loved exactly as you are. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or alone, you can call or text 988, the National Crisis Hotline, and dial the number ‘3’ to talk to a counselor who has been specifically trained to support LGBTQI+ youth.”

Following a request by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights announced earlier this month that it was opening an investigation into Owasso Public Schools to probe Benedict’s cause of death and the school’s response to allegations of harassment. HRC president Kelley Robinson on March 13 issued a statement emphasizing the importance of a thorough investigation.

“As parents, we send our kids to school expecting that they will be safe and cared for,” Robinson said. “Nex was failed by so many and should still be here today. We hold their family in our hearts as they grapple with the devastating reality that their beloved child, a teen with a bright future, is no longer making this world a brighter place. Nex died one day after being beaten unconscious in a school bathroom, and following more than a year of bullying and harassment at school. This is heartbreaking. And we have heard from so many parents and students that this culture of bullying and harassment is both pervasive at Owasso Public Schools and that many within the school had actual knowledge that it was occurring and took no steps to fix it. We reiterate our call for a full and complete investigation. Young people in Oklahoma and across the country deserve to be safe and respected at school.”

The case has drawn more attention to the anti-trans laws sweeping the country — including in Oklahoma, which in 2022 barred transgender individuals from using bathrooms in accordance with their gender identity. The news of Benedict’s death led to vigils and demonstrations across the country. In New York, hundreds gathered at the Stonewall Inn on Feb. 26 to mourn Benedict and call for justice.

GLAAD has been running a TV ad in Oklahoma spotlighting the alleged failure of Oklahoma State Superintendent of Public Information Ryan Walters to protect students in the wake of Benedict’s death — especially since Benedict had told police that they did not report past instances of bullying because they were not confident that the school would do anything. According to GLAAD, Walters produced and promoted videos accusing trans youth of being a threat in schools, spread disinformation about inclusive history in schools, and more.

“There is nothing in this one page document to explain why the medical examiner checked a box,” GLAAD president and CEO Kate Ellis said in a written statement. “Media must have learned by now that they need to continue to question what they get from law enforcement and government entities in Oklahoma that have so far failed to protect vulnerable students and responsibly provide any information that is critical for student safety. Nex Benedict’s family and the entire state of Oklahoma deserve far more answers and accountability from those charged with keeping Nex and all youth safe… Our hearts remain with Nex’s family and all who grieve this horrific loss and the unacceptable violence that preceded it. It remains imperative that school environments reject bullying in all its forms.”