Analysis: Nex Benedict Didn’t Have to Die

Nex Benedict. (Photo: Wikipedia)

CW: This story contains descriptions of suicide and anti-LGBTQ+ violence

Nex Benedict, 16, a nonbinary Indigenous student at Owasso High School in Owasso, Oklahoma, died the day after a fight with three girls in the bathroom at the school. Benedict had been targeted at their high school over their gender identity, according to Sue Benedict, Nex Benedict’s grandmother and legal guardian. Sue Benedict told Bevan Hurley at The Independent that the teenager “endured more than a year of abuse simply for being who they were.”

On March 13, the Owasso medical examiner released a report ruling the cause of death as suicide due to “Diphenhydramine and Fluoxetine combined toxicity” from the two drugs. Diphenhydramine is a sedating antihistamine found in Benadryl, which is available over the counter. Fluoxetine is used as an antidepressant. It can be commonly found in Prozac and is prescription only. But as was revealed in the newly released 911 call from Sue Benedict the morning after Nex sustained that beating at school, she gave Nex both medications — which she maintained — every night before the teen went to bed. 

The suicide ruling appears to conclude the story of what killed Nex Benedict, but while it appears to answers the how, it does not answer the why. Did Nex truly commit suicide or was this an accidental death brought on by the toxicity of their regular medication combined with a possible brain injury from the beating? 

A contributing factor in Nex Benedict’s tragic death was that Nex — and Sue — were failed by a myriad of services that so often fail both LGBTQ+ people and Indigenous people. 

In a 27-minute police body cam video at the hospital where Sue took Nex to be examined after the nurse at the high school recommended it, both Sue and Nex detail the bullying Nex had been receiving. Sue, a registered member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, details how she had been advising Nex to try and “get above” the harassment. Both Nex and Sue say they were working toward that goal. Sue says proudly that Nex has been “doing great” despite the bullying.

Sue Benedict, who raised Nex since they were an infant and formally adopted them in recent years, veers between female and they/them pronouns, correcting herself often. She’s a loving and supportive parent who wants the police to protect her child. The police state they don’t want to get involved. Sue is calm, but adamant as she pleads for justice for Nex. Sue says, “I want you to find out why they did not call you, because they are in the wrong for that.” 

The police inform Sue that there can be protective orders and civil suits against the girls. Sue explains that the school never told her these things and that she was informed of them later, by her sister. Sue says she wants police to talk to the parents of the girls who beat Nex. “I want them to know what they did,” Sue says.

But while friendly and seemingly supportive, the police officer actively discourages Sue from filing a criminal complaint. He says it could open her and Nex to legal liability.

The officer also says it would be a shame for any of the students to have to deal with a criminal complaint for “something so minuscule,” even though Sue said clearly that the abuse had been going on for a year.

Throughout the video, Nex allows Sue to fight for their rights and protection, looking at Sue much of the time. But the police — who refer to Nex as “she” throughout — while very gentle with Sue, remains hesitant to push a criminal case, but says he will follow up with Sue if she wants to press charges on Nex’s behalf. Nex is laughing with the officer and with Sue. It’s not a contentious exchange at any point. The officer shakes Nex’s hand when he leaves and they share a joke.

The body cam ends and the video goes to the 911 call from Sue. Nex has come downstairs to seek help from Sue who details what is happening to Nex, telling the 911 operator that Nex is “posturing” like in a seizure and that their eyes have rolled back in their head. The 911 operator asks if Nex is on drugs and Sue explains that she keeps the medications that Nex takes at night — Prozac and Benadryl — and that these are the only drugs Nex takes. Sue, a former nurse, is calm throughout the call, and gives details about the fight, and suggests there might be a head injury involved.

PGN made several attempts to ask more questions about the extent of Nex’s injuries from the medical examiner, the police, and Bailey Medical Center, the small 73-bed hospital where Nex was treated and released. Calls and emails were not returned at presstime. What is difficult to ascertain is how the teen who was joking with Sue and the police officer ended up dead from an alleged overdose just hours later. PGN wanted information on how much Benadryl and Prozac were in Nex’s system and how much would be required to cause death, but has not received that information. PGN also wanted to know from the Medical Center if a head injury had exacerbated the toxicity, particularly in someone of such slight stature as Nex. 

It’s unclear what treatment Nex received at the hospital and how thorough it was. The Office of Minority Health of HHS states that urban American Indian and Alaska Native populations have documented a frequency of poor health and limited health care options, particularly for the 13% like Nex and Sue who live on reservations or other trust lands.

What is far more clear than the autopsy report is what was happening to Nex as a nonbinary transmasculine teen living on a reservation in Oklahoma in a very conservative district and state.

On the day Benedict died, Oklahoma’s state Senate introduced 40 bills restricting the rights of LGBTQ+ people. At a constituent forum Feb. 24, just weeks after Benedict’s death, GOP Oklahoma state Sen. Tom Woods asserted, “We are a Republican state – supermajority – in the House and Senate. I represent a constituency that doesn’t want that filth in Oklahoma.” 

Woods said, “We are a religious state, and we are going to fight to keep that filth out of the state of Oklahoma because we are a Christian state – we are a moral state. I’m going to vote my district, and I’m going to vote my values, and we don’t want that in the state of Oklahoma.”

In September 2023, Oklahoma State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters proposed an emergency rule prohibiting school districts and local school sites from altering any sex or gender designations in any prior year student records without authorization from the State Board of Education.

Walters told the Washington Post he is pledged to legislation countering the “radical gender theory,” which he defines as “the notion that one’s gender can differ from biological sex.” 

Walters told the Post, “There’s two genders. That’s the way God created us. Some young people are confused,” he said, but, “your job as an adult is to help kids, not lie to them.”

PA State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta thanked PGN for writing about Nex, and said, “Nex’s death is gut wrenching and sadly all too common in a landscape that encourages violence against trans and nonbinary people. Nex should be alive today. We owe it to them to shift the landscape and ensure that we don’t lose another kid to the weight of hate.”

President Joe Biden released a statement on Nex Benedict’s suicide March 14. Biden said, “Jill and I are heartbroken by the recent loss of Nex Benedict. Every young person deserves to have the fundamental right and freedom to be who they are, and feel safe and supported at school and in their communities. Nex Benedict, a kid who just wanted to be accepted, should still be here with us today.” 

Biden, a long-time supporter of trans kids, said, “Nonbinary and transgender people are some of the bravest Americans I know. But nobody should have to be brave just to be themselves. In memory of Nex, we must all recommit to our work to end discrimination and address the suicide crisis impacting too many nonbinary and transgender children.” 

Biden also spoke to the issue of anti-LGBTQ+ bullying, about which the Washington Post just released a new report. He said, “Bullying is hurtful and cruel, and no one should face the bullying that Nex did. Parents and schools must take reports of bullying seriously. My prayers are with Nex’s family, friends, and all who loved them — and to all LGBTQI+ Americans for whom this tragedy feels so personal, know this: I will always have your back.”

Biden added: “To LGBTQI+ young people across the country — you are loved exactly as you are. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or alone, you can call or text 988, the National Crisis Hotline, and dial the number ‘3’ to talk to a counselor who has been specifically trained to support LGBTQI+ youth.”

The Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Education this month opened an investigation into the school’s actions regarding the bullying, harassment and subsequent death of Nex Benedict. PGN was told the investigation is ongoing.

HRC President Kelley Robinson wrote in a Feb. 21 letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, “We are deeply concerned about the failure of Owasso High School to address documented instances of bullying, violence, and harassment against Nex, which occurred in earnest over the course of the previous school year.”

Robinson urged the department to “urgently investigate whether Owasso High School unlawfully failed to address the discrimination and harassment to which Nex was subjected.”

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