Owasso Students, Activists Organize Walkout And Rally To Honor Nex Benedict

Dozens of students and activists gathered outside Owasso High School on Feb. 26 for a community rally honoring Nex Benedict.

Monday, February 26th 2024, 11:37 am

By: News On 6


Dozens of students and activists gathered outside Owasso High School on Feb. 26 for a community rally honoring Nex Benedict.

The 16-year-old died earlier this month one day after a fight at school.

The medical examiner's initial investigation showed Benedict did not die from trauma.

At the rally, News On 6 saw strangers hugging and even several parents holding signs.

One mom got emotional and said it terrifies her to think about the challenges students go through.

Friends shared memories of Benedict.

"They were the kind of person to light up a room no matter what mood they were in,” said Allasyn Speed, Benedict’s friend and an Owasso senior.

Owasso students planned a walkout and rally outside the school.

"It’s been tough,” said Robin Ingersoll, Benedict’s friend and an Owasso sophomore. “Really tough to lose someone that I care about. And to see all of this hate that manifested into something powerful. I mean, it’s become such a big thing."

At least one counter-protester was there for three hours. There were some screaming matches, but News On 6 did not see anything physical.

Some adults said they need to be role models.

"We can be the start of the change that this town needs to get the support on the school board that we need for that change to happen and make a difference today," said Cassidy Brown, one of the adult organizers.

Some parents said the investigation into Benedict's death has them worried.

"I don't want people to be bullied,” said Farah Shahreza, an Owasso parent.

“I want them to feel safe when they go to school,” said Shahreza. “I don't want them to worry about what kind of clothes they wear or what their hair looks like or any of that you know what I mean?”

People who signed a flag at the rally vow to be a part of the change.

"My goal is to tell the school that we need change and that students need to be a part of that change, and if that comes by changing policy, then so be it,” said Owasso student Kane, who asked to withhold their last name.

The district said Feb. 26’s attendance was 51%, compared to 94% on an average day in the fall of 2023.

The district said these numbers include students who are out of the building for school activities, sickness, and other reasons.

The superintendent sent out this statement after the rally:

This morning, some of our OHS students participated in a peaceful walkout at the East Campus. While OPS does not condone any disruptions during the school day, the district recognizes our students’ Constitutional rights to assemble peacefully, participate in student-led civic engagement, and express themselves in a respectful and appropriate manner. 
The district is deeply grateful for the support of our district safety and security team, as well as the many local and state law enforcement partners who helped ensure the wellbeing of all involved during this non-school-sponsored, off-campus event. 
We understand that school safety continues to be top-of-mind for many, and I want to reassure our students, families, and staff that OPS takes safety and security matters very seriously. As the district moves forward with normal school operations, you should expect to continue seeing an increased presence of security personnel at each building out of an abundance of caution.
The safety of students and staff is, and always will be, our top priority. Thank you for your ongoing support and understanding as we navigate this difficult time together. 

Story Timeline: What Has Been Reported About How Nex Benedict Died?

Nex Benedict, a non-binary student who attended Owasso High School died on February 8, the day after they were involved in a physical altercation in a campus bathroom.

Owasso Public School officials said that the fight was broken up in less than two minutes by other students and a staff member. They said everyone involved walked to the principal's office and nurse's office. They say each student was given a health assessment by a school nurse, and the school called all the parents and let them know they could file police reports, and School Resource Officers were also available.

School leaders say they determined none of the students needed to be taken to a hospital by ambulance but recommended to Benedict's parent that they receive a further inspection. Benedict's parent did call the police later that day from the hospital, wanting to make a report.

Police say Benedict was released from the hospital that day but was rushed back the next day and died. A judge signed the search warrant less than 24 hours after Benedict died, giving police authority to collect evidence at the school.

Full Story: Search Warrant Served At Owasso School Day After Nex Benedict's Death

Documents say investigators took 137 pictures of the school and inside the bathroom, collected two swabs of stains on the bathroom floor, and retrieved records and documents of all students involved in the altercation. The search warrant says Owasso Police Officers initially suspected foul play was involved, but that was written before the medical examiner did the autopsy.

Many on social media speculated that Benedict was murdered or killed because of the altercation, but police have said that the initial report from the Medical Examiner indicates that Benedict "did not die as a result of trauma."

Full Story: 'Did Not Die As A Result Of Trauma': Owasso Police Detail Nex Benedict's Death, Family Issues New Statement

The medical examiner will determine the cause and manner of death which could take months, as they await toxicology results. Police are investigating and will turn over their reports to the district attorney's office, who will decide what, if any, charges are to be filed.

Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler released a statement on Friday stating that his office will wait to see the results of the investigation before making any decisions.

"The Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office is not an investigative agency. Law enforcement agencies in our jurisdiction conduct investigations and subsequently forward those reports to our office if the agency believes that a criminal / juvenile delinquency charge may be warranted. We review those reports and make decisions based upon the factual information contained within those reports.
This currently is an active law enforcement investigation. As such, we do not comment upon nor do we speculate about what may or may not be a crime. Obviously, the unexpected death of a person, especially a child is a tragedy. A family in our community is grieving and we empathize with their sorrow during this difficult time. While much has been speculated about this child’s death in social media, we will maintain the integrity of law enforcement’s investigation, and allow them to do their job. This community, like any other community in the United States, deserves investigations of any allegation to be professional, objective, and not swayed by sentiments fueled by the passion of emotions which may be misinformed."

What Has the Family Said About The Death of Nex Benedict

The family of Nex Benedict released a new statement on February 22 saying that the family is grateful for the outpouring of support, but asks for privacy as they grieve Nex.

"The Benedicts know all too well the devastating effects of bullying and school violence, and pray for meaningful change where bullying is taken seriously," it says.

The family is also calling for all threats against Owasso Public Schools to be stopped immediately.

The Public Response To Nex Benedict Investigation

The public response to Benedict's death has been overwhelming, with thousands of messages to police, the school, and members of the media. Several vigils have been held and more are planned to remember them.

Both Public and government officials have addressed the case and protestors attended the monthly state school board meeting to speak on Benedict's behalf.

State Superintendent Ryan Walters made the following statement at the meeting about Benedict's death:

"The first that I would like to address is the tragedy in Owasso. Losing a student is always extremely difficult. And we should be keeping the loss of families, and communities in our prayers. This is a heartbreaking tragedy. And it's difficult for so many folks over there, and we want to be there to comfort them as best we can. We've had a lot of folks that have rushed to have an opinion and judgment there in the wake of a tragedy. What I would ask is that we wait, while there's little information available, and there'll be more that comes out here for the next few weeks, as law enforcement is doing their investigations. And once that's done, I think we need to wait for those things to be done before we pass judgment. And we're always going to focus on the security and safety of our kids. So we'll be looking at that moving forward."

The larger conversation online about Benedict's death has become about bullying in schools, specifically bullying that targets non-binary, trans, and other LGBTQ+ groups. Some organizations such as the ACLU and GLAAD have even asserted that policies and rhetoric put forward by Oklahoma's elected officials emboldens discriminatory behavior.

Statement from GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis:

“Oklahoma's top leaders have a documented history of baseless legislation and harmful rhetoric against vulnerable students like Nex Benedict, a record that endangers students and does nothing to improve education. Reporters need to ask them what they’ve done and will do to create safe learning environments for everyone. Policies that exclude and smear people make every student, family and community less safe. Every American must demand that elected officials stop using their offices to bully children and work to protect them instead.”

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre addressed the death on Friday and promoted the 9-8-8 mental health line.

"So I want to address some devastating news out of Oklahoma. As a parent, I was absolutely heartbroken to learn about Nex Benedict's death. Every young person deserves to feel safe and supported at school. Our hearts are with Nex Benedict's family, friends, and the entire school community in the wake of this horrific and gut-wrenching tragedy.
I know that for many LGBTQ-plus students across the country, this may feel personal and deeply, deeply painful. There's always someone you can talk to, if you're going through a hard time and need support. The president and his administration, launch the 988 line to help and we have a line dedicated to serving LGBTQ+ young people that can be reached by dialing 988 and pressing three. Through devastating tragedies like these, we must support each other and lift one another up."

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt urged Owasso Police and Owasso Public Schools to be transparent with the public.

“Sarah and I are saddened to learn of the death of Nex Benedict, and our hearts go out to Nex’s family, classmates, and the Owasso community. The death of any child in an Oklahoma school is a tragedy— and bullies must be held accountable. As we await the results of the investigation, I urge Owasso Police and Owasso Public Schools to be forthcoming and transparent with the public.”

United States Vice President Kamala Harris also commented on the news saying that she and President Biden stood with the family.

"My heart goes out to Nex Benedict’s family, friends, and their entire community. To the LGBTQI+ youth who are hurting and are afraid right now: President Joe Biden and I see you, we stand with you, and you are not alone."

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