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Oklahoma students walk out after trans student’s death to protest bullying policies

After the death of Nex Benedict, classmates at Owasso High School say bullying often goes unpunished, causing students to feel like there’s no point asking for help.
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OWASSO, Okla. — At least 40 students at Owasso High School walked out Monday to protest what they describe as a pervasive culture of bullying with little accountability, which they believe led to a student’s death at their school.

Nex Benedict, 16, died Feb. 8, a day after a fight in a bathroom on the school’s West Campus. In body camera footage from a police officer’s interview with Nex, he described how three students “jumped” him after he threw water on them because they were bullying him and his friend over the way that they dressed.

Nex’s mother, Sue Benedict, previously told The Independent that Nex told her he faced bullying due to his gender identity. Friends said Nex was transgender and primarily went by he/him pronouns at school but also used they/them pronouns, which Nex's family also used. Several other friends said Nex preferred he/him pronouns. In the body camera footage, when the police officer asked Nex if he ever reported the bullying to the school, Nex said, “I didn’t really see the point in it.”

Owasso students told NBC News that Nex’s answer is common among their classmates: LGBTQ students and others who face bullying due to their identities feel like when they report the bullying to the school, they either aren’t believed or nothing really changes. 

A photo of Nex Benedict with a note is left alongside flowers
Flower and tributes to Nex Benedict have been left outside Owasso High School.Shelby Tauber for NBC News

An Owasso High School spokesperson Brock Crawford said that students attend an assembly at the beginning of each school year that "includes the processes and procedures they should follow to report bullying or other safety concerns."  

"We take reports of bullying very seriously and have policies and procedures in place to address such behavior," he said, adding that students are encouraged to report such incidents. "All reported bullying accusations are investigated by administrators at the school site in which they occur, and are reviewed by the district’s Director of Safety and Security."

In a letter to students sent Sunday that was shared with NBC News, the school acknowledged the planned walkout and said it supported students’ right to demonstrate but that students doing so would be marked absent from class, barring written permission from parents. 

“We are committed to supporting the academic and social emotional needs of our students while maintaining a safe and orderly learning environment for all,” the letter said. “Our district safety and security team continues to work closely with law enforcement to help ensure everyone’s safety.” The letter added that experienced counselors were on hand to speak with students.

The walkout is not political, said Kane, a nonbinary student who went to Owasso High School for 10th and 11th grade and now takes online classes for his senior year. Kane, who asked that only his first name be used for fear of being targeted further, led a 5-minute moment of silence in honor of Nex.

Kane said he has gone back and forth between in-person school and online classes since eighth grade in part due to bullying over his sexuality more than his gender identity. When he was a sophomore, a student called him and his partner “f------,” and he said students casually use the N-word often with no repercussions. 

The high school has a student body of just less than 3,000.

Ahead of the walkout on Monday, one counter-protester made anti-LGBTQ statements using a megaphone. As he made comments about AIDS and how Jesus Christ was the “real man” lesbians need, students holding signs stating “trans youth belong” surrounded him to block him from sight. 

Demonstrators walk out to protest bullying at Owasso High School
Students at Owasso staged a walkout Monday to protest what they say is unchecked bullying. Jo Yurcaba / NBC News

“There’s been bullying issues. This time, the bullying has gone so far that a student has passed,” said Kane, who is one of the organizers of Monday’s walkout. “To me, it doesn’t matter if Nex passed from a traumatic brain injury or if they passed from suicide. What matters is the fact that they died after getting bullied, and that is the story for so many other students. I’ve been close to ending it myself because of bullying. It’s not new for so many students.” 

Robin Gray Ingersoll, who used to date Nex, said that he feels supported by the school, but that more could be done. He said that when he was on his way out to the walkout, Principal Tiffani Cooper told him she loves and supports him. The message Ingersoll hopes the walkout sends is that trans people aren’t going anywhere.

“We matter, and we will fight in his honor,” he said of Nex. “Because that’s what he was about — fighting and sticking up for himself.”

The Owasso Police Department said in a statement Wednesday that preliminary information from an autopsy report shows that Nex’s death was not the result of trauma. As a result, Kane said speculation that Nex died from an overdose has been rampant among classmates. A toxicology exam is still pending, and an official autopsy will be released later.

Ally, a senior at Owasso who uses they/them pronouns and asked to go by only their first name to protect their privacy, was friends with Nex. They said they aren’t out publicly about their gender identity due to fears about bullying, but they’ve seen friends, including Nex, face it. 

A pride flag and flower bouquets are laid atop the school entry plaque for Owasso High School
Vigils honoring Nex have taken place throughout Oklahoma since the teen's death.Jo Yurcaba / NBC News

“Even if something did happen, there’s no point in going to any kind of administration or teachers about it because absolutely nothing will be done,” Ally said. “And I’ve seen it time and time again with my friends.”

Neither of the students actually knew what the Owasso Public Schools’ bullying policy was and said they had never been informed of it by their school. The district’s student conduct code prohibits bullying, which includes “a pattern of harassment, intimidation, threatening behavior, physical acts, verbal or electronic communication, directed toward a student or group of students that results in or is reasonably perceived as being done with the intent to cause negative educational or physical results for the targeted individual or group” and is communicated in a way that would disrupt the school’s educational mission. 

In order to meet the definition, district policy added that a reasonable person should recognize that such actions would “harm another student, damage another student’s property, place another student in reasonable fear or harm to the student’s property,” or insult or demean “any student or group of students” in a way that disrupts the school’s educational mission. 

The district’s website advises anyone who suspects that a student is being bullied to Owasso Public Schools “report and stop bullying” form or call the Stop Bullying Now hotline at 1-800-273-8255. It also notes that every school has a designated school administrator who investigates bullying reports.

Juanpablo Alvarez and Karla Alvarez place flowers at a memorial
Owasso High School senior Juanpablo Alvarez and his sister Karla Alvarez place flowers at a budding memorial Sunday night.Shelby Tauber for NBC News

Ally said they hadn’t been as involved in the planning of the walkout as Kane had because they know their friend was the catalyst for it. 

“I always have that reminder of what happened to them, and I can never really escape it because I go on my phone, it’s there,” they said. “I go out to go do something with a friend, I hear people talking about it. It’s always going to be there. I don’t truly ever have an escape for it. But I know that in whatever way I can, I would absolutely love to help get rid of what’s been happening at Owasso. Because my friend literally died from this, someone who I love died, and they had so much life left to live — like they weren’t even a month into being 16 when they died.”

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text HOME to 741741 or visit for additional resources.

If you are an LGBTQ young person in crisis, feeling suicidal or in need of a safe and judgment-free place to talk, call the TrevorLifeline now at 1-866-488-7386 or the Rainbow Youth Project at 1-317-643-4888.