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Nex Benedict's hometown holds vigil for the teen who died after altercation at school

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The death of a nonbinary teenager the day after a fight at an Oklahoma high school has prompted vigils throughout the country. Max Bryan with member station KXJZ in Tulsa was at the vigil in the student's hometown last night. And we'll note that in this report, a lawmaker appears to denigrate transgender people.

MAX BRYAN, BYLINE: Hundreds of people gathered holding candles at a park in the small Oklahoma town of Owasso.

ANNA RICHARDSON: I want to thank everybody for coming. I think it means a lot that so many people showed up from our community to honor this life.

BRYAN: They were there to honor Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old student who died earlier this month the day after a fight in a school bathroom. Police say preliminary results show Benedict did not die of trauma, but the student told officers at the hospital that three girls beat them on the floor until they blacked out and that the girls had picked on them for how they dressed. Student Robin Ingersoll, who had dated Benedict, described them as someone with a tough exterior but a big heart.

ROBIN INGERSOLL: We could all learn how to be better so something like this doesn't happen again. We could all grow for Nex.

BRYAN: At least seven vigils were held for Benedict throughout Oklahoma, a state that has seen increasingly hostile rhetoric against LGBTQ people. The state also passed a bill requiring students to use school bathrooms that correlate with their birth sex. When asked Friday about how the rhetoric and bills affect a situation like Benedict's, Republican state senator Tom Woods said his heart goes out to the situation. But then he said this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TOM WOODS: We are a religious state. We are going to fight and keep that filth out of the state of Oklahoma because we're a Christian state.

BRYAN: The comments sparked a sharp reaction in Oklahoma. A speaker at a vigil in nearby Tulsa said Woods doesn't understand real filth because he doesn't look in the mirror. But in Owasso, the speakers mostly remembered Benedict's life. Anna Richardson an Owasso High School parent who organized the event, said she wanted students to have a safe place to grieve and remember their peer.

RICHARDSON: I hope people come away from this knowing that it's OK to be different and that you're accepted here in our local physical community if you are different and that there are people here that love you.

BRYAN: Police say they are waiting on autopsy results to officially determine the cause of Benedict's death. For NPR News, I'm Max Bryan in Tulsa.

(SOUNDBITE OF LOUIS YORK SONG, "ALONE A LOT FEAT. ANTHONY HAMILTON") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Max Bryan
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