Death of Nex Benedict, Oklahoma student, prompts vigils across the country

Kendra Wilson-Clements speaks during a candlelight vigil for 16-year-old nonbinary student Nex Benedict on February 24, 2024 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. (Photo by J Pat Carter/Getty Images)

The death of Nex Benedict, a nonbinary high school student in Oklahoma, spurred the organization of several vigils across the country this weekend.

The first were held Friday night in Oklahoma, with several more planned over the weekend in various Oklahoma cities. Others have been held or are planned in several states, including California, Washington, Minnesota, New Jersey, Texas and New York.

Benedict was a 16-year-old student at Owasso High School who died a day after an altercation at school that may have stemmed from bullying over the teen’s identity

According to Benedict’s family, the student identified as nonbinary and used they/them pronouns, which will be used in reference to Benedict throughout the article. 

Here is what to know about Benedict and the investigation into their death: 

How did Nex Benedict die?

Benedict was involved in an altercation in a school restroom on Feb. 7. They were taken by their mother, Sue Benedict, to the emergency room after the fight. 

Benedict had been at home the next day, Feb. 8, because they were suspended, Sue Benedict told police. That afternoon, Sue Benedict called 911 because Nex’s breathing was shallow, their eyes were rolling back and their hands were curled.

"I don't know if it's from her head injury, because the girls that beat her up knocked her to the ground. They said she hit her head on the bathroom floor," Sue Benedict said in her 911 call. She also mentioned that Nex had been complaining of a headache.

Paramedics were dispatched to the home and took Nex to the emergency room, where they later died, police said. 

Police said on Feb. 21 that preliminary autopsy results indicated Benedict did not die as a result of injuries sustained in the fight. Police aren’t commenting further while toxicology results are pending. 

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.

What is nonbinary?

Nonbinary is a term that some people use to describe themselves who do not identify exclusively as a man or a woman. 

Envisioning gender as a spectrum, nonbinary people may identify as being both a man and a woman, somewhere in between or as falling completely outside of these categories.

Nonbinary can also be used as an umbrella term encompassing identities such as agender, bigender, genderqueer or gender fluid, according to the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, which explains those terms and others associated with LGBTQ+ here

The Pew Research Center in 2022 published that about 5% of young adults, aged 18-29, in the U.S. said their gender was different from their sex assigned at birth.

Owasso police videos

On Feb. 23, Owasso Police released video showing Nex Benedict speaking with an officer about the attack while in the emergency room, conscious and appearing to be alert. 

In the video from Feb. 7, Nex tells a police officer the fight started after they poured water from a water bottle on one girl in a group of three who were making fun of them and their friends.

"They came at me, they grabbed on my hair, I grabbed onto them," Nex told the officer. "I threw one of them into a paper towel dispenser and then they got my legs out from under me and got me on the ground, started beating the (expletive) out of me," they said, before adding, "I blacked out."

Police also released security footage from inside the West Campus of Owasso High School that showed Benedict stacking chairs ahead of the altercation, and afterwards walking through the hallway and leaving the building with Sue Benedict. 

Police also released audio of 911 calls placed by Sue Benedict on Feb. 7 and Feb. 8.

The investigation is pending as further toxicology and other autopsy results are completed.

Meanwhile, a GoFundMe posted by Nex’s mother has raised over $145,000, which she said will cover unexpected funeral expenses, a headstone with the "correct name of their choice" and go "to other children dealing with the right to be who they feel they are, in Nex Benedict’s name." 

This story was reported from Detroit. The Associated Press contributed.