National

Oklahoma death of nonbinary student Nex Benedict after in-school fight prompts calls for answers

OWASSO, Okla. — Investigators in Owasso, Oklahoma, are investigating the death of a nonbinary student one day after a physical altercation with other students.

There are conflicting reports regarding the student's name and gender identity, and they are believed to be part of the transgender and gender nonconforming community. The student was identified to be 16-year-old Nex Benedict by their mother in an interview with The Independent.

The student's mother, Sue Benedict, told the news outlet that Nex and another student had gotten in a fight with three older girls in the bathroom. It is not yet clear if their gender identities had a role in the altercation.

Nex had experienced several months of bullying from students, according to Sue Benedict in The Independent.

Police said an Owasso High School student died on Feb. 8, a day after a physical altercation between the student and others at the school took place. Police have not publicly identified the victim.

According to police, the teen and their family reported the altercation at a local hospital, where the student was taken following the incident. A school resource officer responded to the hospital to take the report.

In a statement on the school's website, school officials said: “Students were in the restroom for less than two minutes and the physical altercation was broken up by other students who were present in the restroom at the time, along with a staff member who was supervising outside of the restroom.”

According to police, the student was rushed back to a hospital the next day, where the student was pronounced dead.

Officials say they are investigating the incident and will be interviewing school staff and students "over the course of the next two weeks." The findings will then be submitted to the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office for prosecution review.

Officials say it is not known at this time if the death is related to the incident at the school or not. The department is awaiting an autopsy report and toxicology results.

The State Medical Examiner’s Office will determine a final cause and manner of death.

Nex's mother told The Independent that they had experience several months of bullying from students, and it followed state legislative policies that targeted the transgender community.

In recent years, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt has signed bills that required students to use bathrooms that match their sex assigned at birth citing safety, banned the use of nonbinary gender markers on IDs, restricted gender-affirming care and banned transgender girls from participating in girls' sports citing fairness.

In a post on GoFundMe, Sue Benedict added: "We are sorry for not using their name correctly and as parents we were still learning the correct forms. 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."

Local LGBTQ organizations are calling for accountability against those who have promoted anti-transgender rhetoric, which some speculate may have contributed to the attack on Nex and the other student.

"The assault on Nex is an inevitable result of the hateful rhetoric and discriminatory legislation targeting Oklahoma trans youth," said groups Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the ACLU of Oklahoma in a joint statement.

“We are deeply troubled by reports the school failed to respond appropriately to the altercation that preceded Nex’s death and demand a thorough, open investigation into the matter," the statement read.

ABC News has reached out to the Owasso school district for comment.

"While we continue to piece together the full story, we wanted to reach out to our community grappling with this horrific harm, and the grief we all share as we reflect on the growing anti-2SLGBTQ+ sentiments our youngest community members are facing more often," said advocacy group Freedom Oklahoma.

Anti-LGBTQ violence has been on the rise in recent years, according to law enforcement researchers, coinciding with growing anti-LGBTQ sentiment from conservative politicians.

Activists say they hope Nex is remembered for more than their tragic death.

"Nex loved rock music, and often bonded with others over headbanging," said Freedom Oklahoma in a statement. "Nex was unfailingly kind, and always searched for the best in people."

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