Oklahoma police say nonbinary teen's death was not result of injuries from high school fight

A person poses for a photo
In this image provided by Malia Pila, Nex Benedict poses outside the family’s home in Owasso, Okla., in December 2023.
Courtesy photo

A 16-year-old Oklahoma high school student who died a day after an altercation in a school restroom that may have been prompted by bullying over gender identity did not die as a result of injuries sustained in the fight, police said Wednesday.

Police in the suburban Tulsa community of Owasso are investigating the death of 16-year-old Nex Benedict, whose family said identified as nonbinary and used they/them pronouns.

Although the cause of death has not been determined, Owasso police said in a statement preliminary autopsy results indicate the teen did not die as a result of injuries sustained in the fight.

“At this time, any further comments on the cause of death are currently pending until toxicology results and other ancillary testing results are received,” the statement says.

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Neither police nor school officials have said what led to the fight. But Benedict's family says there had been harassment because of the teen's nonbinary identity.

“While at Owasso High School, Nex was attacked and assaulted in a bathroom by a group of other students,” the family said Wednesday in a statement released by their attorney. “A day later, the Benedict's beautiful child lost their life.”

Police Lt. Nick Boatman said detectives are interviewing staff and students at the school to learn more about what happened.

Benedict was able to walk out of the bathroom after the Feb. 7 fight but was taken to a hospital by their family and sent home that night. The next day, paramedics were dispatched to the home for a medical emergency and took Benedict to a hospital emergency room, where they later died, police said.

Nex Benedict's mother, Sue Benedict, told The Independent the teen suffered bruises all over their face and eyes after they and a transgender student got into a fight in a school restroom with three older girls.

“I didn’t know how bad it had gotten,” Sue Benedict told the outlet.

Malia Pila, Nex Benedict’s sister, described her sibling as a “wonderful child that impacted all of us in ways that are difficult to truly articulate in their importance.”

“We’re deeply, deeply sad about their passing,” she wrote in a text message Wednesday to The Associated Press.

Sue Benedict said in a statement on a GoFundMe page set up to help cover funeral expenses that the family was still learning to use the teen's preferred name and pronouns.

“Please do not judge us as Nex was judged, please do not bully us for our ignorance on the subject,” she wrote. “Nex gave us that respect and we are sorry in our grief that we overlooked them.”

Boatman said investigators will forward the results of that probe to the local district attorney to determine what, if any, charges should be filed.

When asked if the students involved in the fight could be charged with a hate crime, Boatman said, “All crimes and charges will be on the table.”

School officials in Owasso, a suburb about 13 miles (20 kilometers) northeast of Tulsa, said in a statement a physical altercation occurred in a restroom and that students were in the restroom for less than two minutes before the fight was broken up by other students and a staff member.

After the fight, each of the students “walked under their own power to the assistant principal's office and the nurse's office,” and school officials recommended to the parent of one of the students involved that they visit a medical facility for further examination.

Police said they were not notified of the altercation until the student arrived at the hospital, and that a report was taken at that time.

Oklahoma's Republican-led Legislature has passed several new laws targeting transgender and nonbinary people in recent years, including bills that prohibit children from receiving gender-affirming medical care and prohibiting the use of nonbinary gender markers on birth certificates.

Gov. Kevin Stitt also has signed bills that prohibit transgender girls and women from playing on female sports teams and prevent transgender children from using school bathrooms that correspond to their gender identity.

Stitt's office released a statement Wednesday on behalf of the governor and his wife, Sarah.

“Sarah and I are saddened to learn of the death of Nex Benedict, and our hearts go out to Nex’s family, classmates, and the Owasso community," he said. “The death of any child in an Oklahoma school is a tragedy — and bullies must be held accountable.”

Among the many anti-trans bills being considered this year in Oklahoma are measures to ban gender-affirming care for adults, prohibit school employees from using a student's preferred pronouns if they don't correspond with the sex assigned at birth and prohibit state laws or executive orders that recognize any gender besides male and female.

Oklahoma's Superintendent of Public Schools, Ryan Walters, also has embraced anti-trans policies and faced bipartisan blowback after he appointed a right-wing social media influencer from New York known for posting anti-trans rhetoric to a state library panel. One of Chaya Raichik’s posts on her Libs of TikTok account on the X platform, formerly known as Twitter, last year showing an edited video critical of a public school librarian in Tulsa led to several consecutive days of bomb threats to schools in the district.

“Policies that discriminate and hateful rhetoric spewed by state officials against transgender youth make our schools less safe and deny youth like Nex the future they deserve,” ACLU Oklahoma said in a statement.

In a statement Wednesday, Walters said he mourned the loss of the Owasso student and that he would “pray for God’s comfort for the family and the entire Owasso community.”