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A non-binary Native American student’s death in Oklahoma is being investigated as a crime, according to local news reports. 

Sixteen-year-old Nex Benedict, whose mother is a tribal citizen of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, died on Feb. 8, one day after a physical altercation in a girl’s bathroom at an Owasso, Okla. high school.  

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Nex’s death has made international news and re-ignited a debate about transgender rights. Nex identified as non-binary and used they/them pronouns. Their cause of death remains unclear. 

Owasso Police Lt. Nick Boatman told the Owasso Reporter on Feb. 22 that foul play is suspected. 

“We are investigating a crime,” Boatman said. “The investigator in this case suspected foul play … in reference to the reported assault and battery.”

What We Know

An altercation occurred on Feb. 7 at Owasso High School when three girls physically attacked Nex in a school bathroom.

In police body cam footage released on Feb. 23, Nex tells a school resource officer that the three girls in question were making fun of the way Nex and their friends were laughing. 

“They were talking about us in front of us,” Nex told the officer. “So I went up there and poured water on them.”

Nex then said the three girls came at them, grabbed their hair and began beating them.

According to a report by the Owasso Police Department, the fight was broken up by another student in the bathroom and a school staff member standing outside the bathroom. All of the students involved were escorted to the assistant principal’s office and were given a health assessment by a registered nurse. It was determined that an ambulance was not necessary for any of the students involved; however, the nurse recommended Nex be further examined at a medical facility.

Surveillance footage released by the school shows Nex walking through the halls with a staff member after the altercation.

Later that day, Nex’s guardian and grandmother, Sue Benedict, took the teen to Bailey Medical Center.  Benedict filed a police report while at the Medical Center. A school resource officer responded and interviewed Nex about the confrontation. Nex was discharged the same day.

Less than 24 hours later, on Feb.8, Nex was rushed back to the hospital, where they were pronounced dead.

In a 911 call released on Feb. 23 by the Owasso Police Department, Benedict can be heard telling the operator, “I need to get an ambulance here quick, please...I don’t know what’s going wrong... (they) fell at school — or (they) got beat up at school yesterday and I took (them) to the hospital... I need someone here now.”

On the call, Sue describes Nex’s labored breathing, their eyes rolling in the back of their head and their hands clenching.

“I hope this ain’t from (their) head. They were supposed to have checked (them) out good,” Benedict told the operator.

Emergency medical crews performed CPR on Nex and transported them to an area hospital. Nex was pronounced dead around 3:30 p.m., according to The Oklahoman. Their cause of death is still unclear.

A search warrant issued on Feb. 9 and filed with the Owasso Municipal Court on Feb. 21 shows investigators took 137 photographs at the school, swabbed two stains from the bathrooms, and seized records and documents of the students involved in the altercations. According to the Owasso Police Department, preliminary autopsy findings show Nex “did not die as a result of trauma.” 

The state medical examiner’s office has not released its autopsy or toxicology report. According to The Independent, Nex’s family will be conducting an independent investigation into the teen’s death. Questions remain as to why the school did not file a police report after the altercation.

In a statement on Feb. 20, the Owasso school district stated there had been “speculation and misinformation” about the circumstances surrounding the altercation. The school said that all the students involved “walked under their own power to the assistant principal’s office and nurse’s office.”

An Outpouring

Vigils took place across the nation over the weekend as crowds gathered to mourn Nex in Oklahoma, Minneapolis, Boston, New York, and more. 

While it is unclear if Nex was attacked because of their gender identity, advocates and mourners are calling on lawmakers to be held accountable for anti-transgender legislation that encourages hateful rhetoric and violence against the trans community. 

At a vigil for Nex held on Friday at the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, a tribal citizen of the White Earth Nation, commented on calls for accountability for Oklahoma lawmakers, including Gov. Kevin Stitt (Cherokee), for passing a 2022 bill requiring students to use bathrooms according to the gender listed on their birth certificates. 

“This did not happen on accident. Policies have consequences,”  Flanagan said. “As an Anishinaabekwe, I cannot say that it is all right with our Indigenous values that our children are bullied and made to suffer and are hurting. It is not who we are. That is not where we come from, and we will continue to do everything in the state of Minnesota, but that is not enough.”

Native American celebrities and advocates have taken to social media to draw attention to Nex’s death. 

“Reservation Dogs” star Dallas Goldtooth; Oscar nominee and star of “Killers of the Flower Moon” Lily Gladstone; and star of Marvel Studios “Echo” Devery Jacobs are among those who have posted tributes to the teen.

Goldtooth wrote on Instagram

As a father of non-binary children this story breaks my heart. Nex was Choctaw and what sounded to be an amazing and lovely person. My love and heart goes out to the family and relatives of Nex. It's disgusting that the family wasn't notified by the school. It's disgusting that Oklahoma officials fueled anti-LGBTIQ+ sentiments leading up to this. Beyond the youth who committed the attack — the adults who foster anti-queer, anti-two-spirit hate must be held accountable as well. #nexbenedict

Gladstone posted a graphic on Instagram that reads: Rest in Power, Nex.

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About The Author
Author: Elyse WildEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Elyse Wild is senior editor for Native News Online and Tribal Business News.