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Friends remember Nex Benedict, Oklahoma student who died after school fight, as ‘fiery kid’

Police video showed Nex Benedict saying three students “jumped” him after he threw water on them because they were bullying him and his friend. The next day, Nex was dead.
Nex Benedict Vigil
Miranda Searcy holds a photo and candles at a vigil for Nex Benedict in Owasso, Okla., on Sunday. They traveled with other seminary queer preachers from Wisconsin to show their respects for Benedict.Shelby Tauber for NBC News

OWASSO, Okla. — Ally, a senior at Owasso High School, said the last thing Nex Benedict said to them was “happy birthday.”

Nex was involved in a fight at the school on Feb. 7, Ally’s birthday, and died the next day. Nex’s mother, Sue Benedict, told The Independent that Nex, 16, was bullied because of his gender identity. As a result, his death has become a rallying cry for LGBTQ activists as Oklahoma and states across the country consider dozens of bills that target the community.

Ally, who uses they/them pronouns and asked to go by only their first name to protect their privacy, said in an interview that they were close friends with Nex.

“It was one of those things where you meet them and you automatically feel like you’ve known them for years kind of thing,” Ally said Sunday before a vigil for Nex, whom they met at the start of the school year. “They were such an adventurous little thing. It was never really a dull moment with them.”

Nex Benedict Vigil
Owasso High School students Ally and Kane speak at a vigil for Nex Benedict in Owasso, Okla., on Sunday. Shelby Tauber for NBC News

Ally said Nex 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.

The Owasso Police Department said in a statement Wednesday that preliminary information from an autopsy report shows Nex’s death wasn’t the result of trauma. A toxicology exam is still pending, and an official autopsy will be released later. 

The department released a series of videos Friday that offer a glimpse into the day before Nex’s death, including body camera video from a police officer’s interview with Nex, in which he described how three students “jumped” him after he threw water on them because they were bullying him and his friend. 

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Nex Benedict outside the family’s home in Owasso, Okla., in Dec. 2023.Sue Benedict / AP file

Ally and Nex's friend group would always get in trouble for laughing too loudly, particularly in art class, Ally said. Nex — who was also known by friends as “Roach” or “Roachie” — was a talented artist and could spend 30 minutes working on something that turned out to be a “masterpiece,” Ally said. 

Ally said the minute they saw the news article about an Owasso student dying after a fight, they knew it was Nex because Nex told Ally and other friends in a group chat that he had been in a fight.

“They were always someone who was never afraid to be who they are,” Ally said. “It was like wherever they went, you were going to accept them, and if you didn’t, that was your problem, and they were going to make it your problem. They were very confrontational.”

Ally was one of a few people who shared stories about Nex at a vigil Sunday at Redbud Festival Park in Owasso. 

Tyler Wrynn, who was one of Nex’s teachers at the Owasso 8th Grade Center, told NBC News ahead of the vigil that Nex wasn’t on his roster but that “he and a plethora of queer kids were always in my room” because they knew Wrynn offered "a safe space.” 

“Nex was a fiery kid,” Wrynn said. “He would light up a room and jump to defend any of his friends if they were getting picked on.”

Nex Benedict Vigil
Attendees hold candles and leave notes at the vigil for Nex Benedict on Sunday.Shelby Tauber for NBC News

Wrynn said at the vigil that his favorite memories of Nex happened every day when he went out for bus duty after school. Nex would yell across the campus “I’m gonna fight you” and challenge Wrynn over “cartoonishly absurd things,” Wrynn said. One day it was winner-gets-Wrynn’s-Ford Mustang. The next it would be if Nex wins, he gets to transfer into Wrynn’s class. 

Among the unanswered questions about Nex and his death is how he identified within the LGBTQ community. Sue Benedict told The Independent that Nex “did not see themselves as male or female. Nex saw themselves right down the middle.” 

Robin Gray, 16, said he dated Nex on and off, and he started his speech at the vigil by clarifying how Nex identified.

“I want to start off by saying that Nex was transgender, and he used he/him pronouns,” Gray said. “He was so much more than his transness.”

Gray said one of his favorite memories of Nex was the first time Nex cooked for him. He made Gray wings with a variety of spices, and the next morning he made pancakes.

Spencer, who went by only his first name at the vigil, said that he was Nex’s partner and that Nex helped him come out as gay to his parents.  

“He made everything easier,” Spencer said. “He kept energy levels high. He would always keep the room in a good mood. He was always one of the brightest kids in the room, whether he would smile or not.”

Nex Benedict Vigil
Anna Richardson, a mother of an Owasso High School student, helped organize a vigil after her son came to her asking if they could do something to acknowledge Nex Benedict’s death and honor their life in the community.Shelby Tauber for NBC News

Anna Richardson, a local business owner, said she started organizing the vigil after her son, an Owasso senior, told her about what happened to Nex and about bullying that LGBTQ students at the school face. She said that they had daily conversations at home about whether the students had a place to process Nex’s death at school and that her son told her, “Nobody feels like they can talk about it or are allowed to talk about it.” 

So, she said, she asked Nex’s family whether she could plan a vigil to give the community a place to remember Nex and grieve, and Nex’s great-grandmother said yes, though the family didn’t attend.

“It’s important to me that this is a safe place for us to honor a child that senselessly died in our community,” Richardson said ahead of the vigil.

Ally said their once-rambunctious group in art class is quieter without Nex. Despite the near-constant news about Nex’s death, Ally said, they are in denial. 

“For some reason, it’s like I’m always looking for them wherever I go, even though I was there at the funeral. I watched them be placed in the ground. I was one of the last people to leave,” Ally said. “I always look for them in crowds, and I’m still waiting for them to come back to our class. I do miss them a lot.”

Nex Benedict Vigil
Flowers, notes and art are left on the stage in honor of Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old Owasso High School student who died earlier this month, at the vigil in Owasso, Okla., on Sunday. Shelby Tauber for NBC News