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If Nex Benedict's autopsy is part of a cover-up, Oklahoma officials are playing a dangerous game

Nex Benedict police bodycam footage hospital bed medical examiner autopsy report
Owasso Police Department; Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Tulsa

Oklahoma officials have treated Nex's death as 'less than,' and if they are hiding behind suicide to protect Nex's assailants, they are putting the lives of other queer youth at risk in more ways than one.

When a child dies – any child – the loss is incalculable. There’s the loss of a son or daughter, a sibling, a cousin, a best friend. There’s a loss of a life, snuffed out before its time. The loss of a future – who knows what that child could have accomplished?

And when that child dies, particularly under horrific circumstances, there is a loss of innocence for all of us, regardless of whether we knew that child or not. Among the first impulses for anyone with a heart who wishes to protect other children is to find a way – any way – to prevent a loss like that from happening again.

The hyper-cruel antithesis of this is what’s going on right now in Oklahoma in the wake of 16-year-old Nex Benedict’s death. As we first reported, Nex, a transgender sophomore at Owasso High School, was brutally beaten by other students in a school bathroom and died the following day. The incident has drawn national attention – but not nearly enough, in my opinion – with many attributing the violent act to a culture of transphobia they say is being stoked by state officials.

Days before Nex’s death, The Oklahoman reported that there were a whopping 50 bills in the state legislature targeting LGBTQ+ people. The state ranks 48th in both education and health care. Don’t you think the state legislature and state government officials have better things to do than sow queer hate among its citizens?

One of those state officials is the superintendent of public instruction, Ryan Walters. Even before Nex’s death, Walters was virulently anti-LGBTQ+. More than 350 LGBTQ+ organizations, activists, and celebrities urged his removal from office after Nex died, saying he has encouraged “a climate of hate and bigotry” throughout his career. Nex’s death didn’t stop him from fanning the flames of hate.

Walters poured salt into a festering wound, telling The New York Times, “There's not multiple genders. There’s two. That’s how God created us.” He added that he did not believe that nonbinary or transgender people exist and that the state would not let students use names or pronouns other than those matching their birth records.

It seems the goal of the official responses around Nex’s death has been to protect those who bullied and beat him. Police were quick to release initial reports saying that Nex "did not die as a result of trauma."

It’s important to note that school officials did not reprimand, sanction, or report to authorities the students who critically harmed Nex. “No report of the incident was made to the Owasso Police Department prior to the notification at the hospital,” Chief Dan Yancey told The Advocate.

The police jumped out over their skis with their initial statement, which raised eyebrows. In fact, Sue Benedict, who was Nex’s adoptive mother, told the news site Popular Information that a statement released by the Owasso Police was a “big cover."

Parents and other members of the public expressed outrage over how the school was handling the response to Nex’s death, particularly pointing out that protecting queer kids and making sure that it didn’t happen again was not a priority for the school board. “Apparently people don’t feel safe here. I can’t imagine why at all,” public commenter Walter Masterson said at the first Owasso school board meeting after Nex's death. “A more 'woke' school board would see the death of a child and work to make sure it never happens again. Not this board.”

Then, along comes the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Oklahoma, which concluded that Nex died by suicide. The medical examiner’s one-page summary report identifies the cause of death as combined toxicity from diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and fluoxetine (Prozac). Noticeably absent from the report were all the injuries Nex incurred the day before.

Nex Benedict medical examiner autopsy reportOffice of the Chief Medical Examiner, Tulsa

My colleague Christopher Wiggins was once a paramedic. When he saw the cause of death was attributed to two very common medications, he decided to investigate. He’s a damn good reporter, and his suspicions regarding the report were justified. He reached out to two toxicology experts, who first made it clear that they weren’t privy to Nex’s autopsy report; however, they told Christopher that the risk of death from these medications, especially when used as directed, is extraordinarily low.

In response to the coroner’s report, GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement, “Nex’s family accurately notes how the report released this week does not reflect the full picture of what happened to Nex and continues to urge accountability of those who failed to keep Nex and all students in Oklahoma safe from bullying, harassment, assault, and most brutally, death.”

Now you have this full picture of all those involved, coupled with a backdrop of hate. Taken in its totality, the reaction to Nex’s death shows that a corrupt, do-nothing clique is part of a deceptive lie and cover-up that shows they did nothing, zero, zilch to protect the life of Nex or any child like him. The authorities' only goal is to protect the perpetrators, not just those who attacked Nex but all those who will be emboldened to beat others just like Nex in the future in school bathrooms throughout the state.

The grossly deceptive response to Nex’s death makes the state of Oklahoma a breeding ground for the bullying – and for beating to injury or death – of LGBTQ+ kids. What the state is doing goes against all we know about protecting vulnerable children.

If the state legislature pushes hate bills, if state officials spew hate, if local authorities and administrators cover up hate, then you create this breeding ground. You create an atmosphere where that hate explodes, like it did with Nex, and you use hate to demean the victim and ennoble the haters.

Suicide rates among LGBTQ+ youth are astronomically high. If Nex ultimately did commit suicide -- and this initial autopsy report does not make a convincing case -- then Oklahoma officials still deserve to be held accountable. Oklahoma's LGBTQ+ suicide prevention line saw a 230 percent increase in calls after the cause of Nex's death was revealed by the coroner. As transgender activist Ari Drennan noted, in a climate of anti-trans hate, "every trans suicide is a murder."

But if Nex's death was ruled a suicide to avoid addressing anti-LGBTQ+ bullying, Oklahoma officials have crossed a line. Using suicide as a cover, as a deception, should be a crime.

It is worth repeating the ominous words of Walters that nonbinary or transgender people don’t exist. That means, in Walters’s world, Nex never existed. And if Nex never existed, how would Walters and other officials associated with him be able to objectively investigate Nex’s death?

All of which means that Nex’s autopsy report is a lie and a facade. Null and void. Plain and simple. Nex and his family deserve so much more, and we need to keep protesting loudly until we get the truth.

John Casey is a senior editor at The Advocate.

Views expressed in The Advocate’s opinion articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent the views of The Advocate or our parent company, equalpride.

If you or someone you know needs mental health resources and support, please call, text, or chat with the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline or for 24/7 access to free and confidential services. Trans Lifeline, designed for transgender or gender-nonconforming people, can be reached at (877) 565-8860. The lifeline also provides resources to help with other crises, such as domestic violence situations. The Trevor Project Lifeline, for LGBTQ+ youth (ages 24 and younger), can be reached at (866) 488-7386. Users can also access chat services at or text START to 678678.

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John Casey

John Casey is a senior editor of The Advocate, writing columns about political, societal, and topical issues with leading newsmakers of the day. John spent 30 years working as a PR professional on Capitol Hill, Hollywood, the United Nations and with four large U.S. retailers.
John Casey is a senior editor of The Advocate, writing columns about political, societal, and topical issues with leading newsmakers of the day. John spent 30 years working as a PR professional on Capitol Hill, Hollywood, the United Nations and with four large U.S. retailers.