Nex Benedict: No charges will be filed over the death of Oklahoma nonbinary teen

The Oklahoma teens involved in a high school bathroom altercation with Nex Benedict, a nonbinary 16-year-old whose death was later ruled as suicide, will not face criminal charges.

Tulsa County district attorney Steve Kunzweiler, after reviewing the Owasso Police Department’s investigation, stated the fight was considered “mutual combat” and didn’t warrant charges.

“When I review a report and make a decision to file a charge I must be convinced – as is every prosecutor – that a crime was committed and that I have reasonable belief that a judge or jury would be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime was committed,” Mr Kunzweiler said.

“From all the evidence gathered, this fight was an instance of mutual combat.”

This decision comes despite the broader context of Benedict’s suicide following the fight, which has sparked calls for reforms against bullying and hate in schools from Benedict’s family and attention from LGBTQ+ rights groups, Oklahoma governor Kevin Stitt, and president Joe Biden.

“An important part of the Owasso Police Department’s investigation was the discovery of some brief notes, written by Benedict, which appeared to be related to the suicide,” Mr Kunzweiler said on Thursday.

“The precise contents of the suicide note are a personal matter which the family will have to address within the privacy of their own lives,” he said.

Mr Kunzweiler said that while securing a criminal conviction requires a standard of proof “beyond a reasonable doubt”, he noted the burden of proof in a civil case is significantly less.

“Whether or not individuals may choose to seek legal counsel for remedies in the civil realm of the court system is a decision best left to them,” he said.

“The scope of those inquiries are not as limited as the question of criminal/delinquent conduct which I was asked to address in this case.”

Last week, President Biden said that he and first lady Jill Biden were “heartbroken” by the death of Benedict in Oklahoma.

In a statement released by the White House, Mr Biden said that all young people should have a “fundamental right and freedom to be who they are” and feel safe at school.

It came after the Oklahoma Medical Examiner concluded that 16-year-old Nex had died by suicide. The teenager was beaten by other students inside a school bathroom on 7 February, at the Owasso High School in Oklahoma. They died the following day.

The president’s statement read: “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.”

The statement continued: “Nonbinary and transgender people are some of the bravest Americans I know. But nobody should have to be brave just to be themselves.”

It continued: “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.

“To LGBTQI+ young people across the country – you are loved exactly as you are.”

If you are experiencing feelings of distress, or are struggling to cope, you can speak to the Samaritans, in confidence, on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email, or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch.

If you are based in the USA, and you or someone you know needs mental health assistance right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Helpline on 1-800-273-TALK (8255). This is a free, confidential crisis hotline that is available to everyone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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