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Vigils held nationwide for non-binary Oklahoma teenager who died following school bathroom fight

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Edmond, Okla. -

Vigils took place across the nation on Friday and Saturday for an Oklahoma teenager who died the day after a fight in a high school bathroom in which the non-binary student claimed to be a target of bullying.

Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old Oklahoma student who identified as non-binary and used they/them pronouns, got into an altercation with three girls in an Owasso High School bathroom who were picking on Benedict and some friends. The girls attacked Benedict for pouring water on them, the teen told police in a video released Friday

Benedict’s mother called emergency responders to the family home the day after the fight, saying Benedict's breathing was shallow, their eyes were rolling back and their hands were curled, according to audio released by Owasso police.

Vigils for Benedict were held at locations including Boston, Minneapolis and Huntington Beach, California. Others were held or planned in several states including Washington, New Jersey, New York and Texas.

Kanan Durham, executive director of Pride at the Pier, said during the Huntington Beach event on Friday that “this single moment cannot be the only way that we honor Nex.”

“This is a lot for all of us,” Durham said in a report by KABC-TV. “This community has experienced grief like this so many times before.”

At a vigil Saturday in Tahlequah, Okla., the president of TahlEquality said Benedict's death was traumatic and the rights group arranged for licensed therapists to be available at the event.

“It's really hard being an LGBT community member in Oklahoma nowadays because suicide ideation and suicidal thoughts happen quite a bit," Sanj Cooper told KOKI-TV, adding that the 2SLGBTQ+ community also was moved to speak out after Benedict's passing.

“If anything we are impassioned, the fire in our belly has been lit up again to continue to fight,” Cooper said. “If anything it doesn’t oppress or keep us from our voice from being heard. If anything it makes it louder.”

More than two dozen people gathered Friday at All Saints Episcopal Church in McAlester, Okla., for a vigil organized by the McAlester Rainbow Connection.

Matt Blancett, who organized the vigil with the Rainbow Connection, a 2SLGBTQ+ group, said it was important to hold a vigil in McAlester because of the murder of Dustin Parker, a transgender man, in 2020.

“It shows people that we have a community, we are here, we’re not going anywhere,” Blancett said.

All Saints Priest Janie Koch said it is important for people to reach out for support.

“It is very very important as the gamut of emotions are cycling to watch out for each other, to be mindful of one another,” Koch said

In audio of the call to police, Benedict's mother, Sue Benedict, said she wanted to file charges. The officer who responded can be heard in the hospital video explaining that the teen started the altercation by throwing the water and the court would view it as a mutual fight.

According to a police search warrant, Sue Benedict indicated to police on Feb. 7 that she didn’t want to file charges at that time. She instead asked police to speak to officials at Owasso High School about issues on campus among students.

The Feb. 9 search warrant, which was filed with the court on Feb. 21, also shows investigators took 137 photographs at the school, including inside the girl’s bathroom where the fight occurred. They also collected two swabs of stains from the bathroom and retrieved records and documents of the students involved in the altercation.

While the two-week-old warrant states that police were seeking evidence in a felony murder, the department has since said Benedict’s death was not a result of injuries suffered in the fight, based on the preliminary results of the autopsy.

The police department said it does not plan to comment further on the teen’s cause of death until toxicology and other autopsy results are completed.

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