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The death of an Oklahoma teen after a fight in school has LGBTQ+ advocates seeking answers

By Andy Rose and Whitney Wild, CNN

(CNN) — A 16-year-old student died following a fight at an Oklahoma high school – and as an investigation into the cause of death continues, advocates point to a heightened and hostile climate against the LGBTQ+ community.

Nex Benedict, whose family says identified as nonbinary, died February 8, one day after they told their family they and a transgender student were involved in a fight with others at Owasso High School. Police in Owasso are investigating.

It is not clear if or how the fight contributed to Nex’s death. Police in Owasso have not called the investigation criminal and said Wednesday that early autopsy findings indicate Nex did not die as a result of trauma.

“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,” Owasso police said in a release Wednesday.

Police declined to make any further comments on the cause of death “until toxicology results and other ancillary testing results are received.”

The autopsy report will be available at a later, unspecified date, police said. The investigation into the incident is ongoing. When contacted by CNN, the medical examiner’s office said it is not yet releasing the full autopsy report.

Sue Benedict, Nex’s guardian and biological grandmother, told The Independent Nex was badly beaten during the fight with three older girls in a bathroom at the school and hit their head on the floor. Benedict said Nex had experienced bullying at the school, but added, “I didn’t know how bad it had gotten.”

“I said, ‘You’ve got to be strong and look the other way, because these people don’t know who you are,’” Benedict told The Independent.

Nex was a 10th grader and used they/them pronouns, according to their family. “Nex did not see themselves as male or female,” Benedict told The Independent. CNN has reached out to the family for comment.

On February 7, a physical altercation in an Owasso High School West campus bathroom was broken up by students and a faculty member, according to Owasso police. All students walked to the assistant principal’s office and the nurse’s office, police said. After contacting parents and guardians and conducting health evaluations, a nurse suggested Nex be taken to a hospital for further care.

An Owasso school resource officer went to Bailey Medical Center, where Nex was examined, and interviewed both Nex and their parent about the incident.

The following afternoon, on February 8, Owasso Fire Department medics responded to a medical emergency involving the teenager, who was then transported to a pediatric emergency hospital where they later died, police said.

In a statement on Wednesday, the Benedict family said that while the investigation is ongoing, the early details about the incident are “troubling at best.”

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

“The Benedicts know all too well the devastating effects of bullying and school violence, and pray for meaningful change wherein bullying is taken seriously and no family has to deal with another preventable tragedy.”

Details emerge of alleged bullying

A family member shared text messages from Nex written shortly after the incident with CNN affiliate KOKI.

“I got jumped at school. 3 on 1, had to go to the ER,” the message said. The text exchange said the girls involved in the fight “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.”

In the exchange, Nex said that they had bruises from the fight and had gotten pain medication. They also wrote, “If I’m still dizzy and nauseous in the morning I might have a concussion.”

From the text messages, it is unclear what the alleged bullying was about.

Nex’s death comes after advocates have strongly criticized Oklahoma officials for actions perceived as targeting LGBTQ+ residents.

The state legislature passed a “bathroom bill” in 2022 requiring all preK-12 schools to require students use the restroom and locker rooms of the sex designated on their birth certificates. Last year, Gov. Kevin Stitt issued an executive order requiring government agencies to identify people according to their sex at birth rather than their gender identity.

Owasso Public Schools said Tuesday it cannot share all details about the incident, but confirmed a “physical altercation occurred in a restroom” that was broken up by other students and a staff member. The district said no ambulance was called, but “it was recommended to one parent that their student visit a medical facility for further examination.”

The school district said, “Due to federal privacy laws, we are unable to disclose the exact nature of disciplinary action taken against any student.”

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters said “all available resources” will be provided to the school district.

“The safety and security of our students is my top priority as well as the first responsibility of Oklahoma schools,” Walters said in a statement issued Tuesday. “I mourn the loss of our student in Owasso and pray for God’s comfort for the family and the entire Owasso community.”

A “thorough, open investigation into the matter” has been demanded, according to a joint statement Tuesday from Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Oklahoma.

A GoFundMe has been established on behalf of Nex and their family.

CNN’s Taylor Romine and Caroll Alvarado contributed to this report.

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