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Vigils held nationwide for nonbinary Oklahoma teenager who died day after school bathroom fight

Vigils took place across the nation for Nex Benedict, the non-binary Oklahoma teenager who died the day after a fight in a high school bathroom. (Feb. 26)

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EDMOND, Okla. (AP) 鈥 Vigils took place across the nation for an Oklahoma teenager who died the day after a fight in a high school bathroom in which the nonbinary student said they were a target of bullying.

Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old who identified as nonbinary and used they/them pronouns, got into an altercation with three girls in an Owasso High School bathroom who were picking on Benedict and some friends. The girls attacked Benedict for pouring water on them, the teen told police in a video released Friday.

Benedict鈥檚 mother called emergency responders to the family home the day after the fight, saying Benedict鈥檚 breathing was shallow, their eyes were rolling back and their hands were curled, according to audio released by Owasso police.

While a two-week-old police warrant states that investigators were seeking evidence in a felony murder, the department has since said Benedict鈥檚 death was not a result of injuries suffered in the fight, based on the preliminary results of the autopsy.

Vigils for Benedict were held in Oklahoma and locations across the country, including Boston, Minneapolis, New York and Southern California in the days following the student鈥檚 death.

Dozens of people held candles and listened to passionate speeches at a gathering Sunday evening in El Paso, Texas.

鈥淚鈥檝e gone from heartbroken to angry,鈥 said a community organizer named Lorena, who urged religious leaders to speak out against discrimination.

鈥淢y call to you is to stand up and make it clear that is what is being done should not be done in your god鈥檚 name,鈥 Lorena said. 鈥淪tand up and take back your religion from the conservative right.鈥

In Huntington Beach, California, Kanan Durham, executive director of Pride at the Pier, said Friday that 鈥渢his single moment cannot be the only way that we honor Nex.鈥

鈥淭his is a lot for all of us,鈥 Durham said in a report by in Los Angeles. 鈥淭his community has experienced grief like this so many times before.鈥

Many of the gatherings were organized by LGBTQ+ groups to protest against the frequent bullying suffered by nonbinary teens. Benedict鈥檚 family says Nex was bullied at school.

At a vigil Saturday in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, the president of TahlEquality said Benedict鈥檚 death was traumatic and the rights group arranged for licensed therapists to be available at the event.

鈥淚t鈥檚 really hard being an LGBT community member in Oklahoma nowadays because suicide ideation and suicidal thoughts happen quite a bit,鈥 Sanj Cooper , adding that the LGBT+ community was moved to speak out after Benedict鈥檚 passing.

Hundreds of people hold up candles during a candlelight service for Nex Benedict, a nonbinary teenager who died one day after a fight in a high school bathroom, at Point A Gallery, Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024, in Oklahoma City. (Nate Billings/The Oklahoman via AP)

Hundreds of people hold up candles during a candlelight service for Nex Benedict, a nonbinary teenager who died one day after a fight in a high school bathroom, at Point A Gallery, Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024, in Oklahoma City. (Nate Billings/The Oklahoman via AP)

鈥淚f anything we are impassioned, the fire in our belly has been lit up again to continue to fight,鈥 Cooper said. 鈥淚f anything it doesn鈥檛 oppress or keep us from our voice from being heard. If anything it makes it louder.鈥

More than two dozen people gathered Friday at All Saints Episcopal Church in McAlester, Oklahoma, for a vigil organized by the McAlester Rainbow Connection.

Matt Blancett, who organized the event for the LGBTQ+ group, said it was important to hold a vigil in McAlester because of the murder of Dustin Parker, a transgender man, in 2020.

鈥淚t shows people that we have a community, we are here, we鈥檙e not going anywhere,鈥 Blancett said.

Kody Macaulay holds a sign during a candlelight service for Nex Benedict, a nonbinary teenager who died one day after a fight in a high school bathroom, at Point A Gallery, Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024, in Oklahoma City. (Nate Billings/The Oklahoman via AP)
Kody Macaulay holds a sign during a candlelight service for Nex Benedict, a nonbinary teenager who died one day after a fight in a high school bathroom, at Point A Gallery, Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024, in Oklahoma City. (Nate Billings/The Oklahoman via AP)
People listen at the start of a candlelight service for Nex Benedict, a nonbinary teenager who died one day after a fight in a high school bathroom, at Point A Gallery, Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024, in Oklahoma City. (Nate Billings/The Oklahoman via AP)
People listen at the start of a candlelight service for Nex Benedict, a nonbinary teenager who died one day after a fight in a high school bathroom, at Point A Gallery, Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024, in Oklahoma City. (Nate Billings/The Oklahoman via AP)

All Saints Priest Janie Koch said it is important for people to reach out for support.

鈥淚t is very very important as the gamut of emotions are cycling to watch out for each other, to be mindful of one another,鈥 Koch said.

In audio of the call to police, Benedict鈥檚 mother, Sue Benedict, said she wanted authorities to file charges. The officer who responded can be heard in the hospital video explaining that the teen started the altercation by throwing the water and the court would view it as a mutual fight.

According to a police search warrant, Sue Benedict indicated to police on Feb. 7 that she didn鈥檛 want to file charges at that time. She instead asked police to speak to officials at Owasso High School about issues on campus among students.

In this image provided Malia Pila, Nex Benedict poses outside the family鈥檚 home in Owasso, Okla., in December 2023. A recently released police search warrant reveals more details in the case of Nex Benedict, a nonbinary Oklahoma student who died a day after a high school bathroom fight that may have been prompted by bullying over gender identity. (Sue Benedict via AP)

In this image provided Malia Pila, Nex Benedict poses outside the family鈥檚 home in Owasso, Okla., in December 2023. A recently released police search warrant reveals more details in the case of Nex Benedict, a nonbinary Oklahoma student who died a day after a high school bathroom fight that may have been prompted by bullying over gender identity. (Sue Benedict via AP)

The Feb. 9 search warrant, which was filed with the court on Feb. 21, also shows investigators took 137 photographs at the school, including inside the girl鈥檚 bathroom where the fight occurred. They also collected two swabs of stains from the bathroom and retrieved records and documents of the students involved in the altercation.

The police department said it does not plan to comment further on the teen鈥檚 cause of death until toxicology and other autopsy results are completed.