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Here's what we know about the death of a nonbinary Oklahoma teen

Authorities say 16-year-old Dagny "Nex" Benedict died on Feb. 8, one day after being involved in a fight at school.
Here's what we know about the death of a nonbinary Oklahoma teen
Posted at 3:59 PM, Feb 21, 2024

The death of a 16-year-old Oklahoma student is garnering national attention and calls for answers from the school district and local law enforcement.

Dagny "Nex" Benedict died unexpectedly on Feb. 8, one day after being involved in a fight at school. The Owassa Police Department said they are waiting on toxicology and autopsy reports before releasing a cause of death.

OPD said they are also interviewing staff and students about the incident, and once completed, they will recommend charges, if any, to the Tulsa County District Attorney's Office.

It's a story that's even caught the attention of the White House.

"Every young person deserves to feel safe and supported at school. Our hearts are with Nex Benedict’s family, their friends, and their entire school community in the wake of this horrific tragedy," White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement. "For many LGBTQI+ students across the country, this may feel personal and deeply painful. There is always someone you can talk to if you’re going through a hard time. Dial 988 and press 3 to reach a counselor dedicated to serving LGBTQI+ young people."

Whether it's friends, family or community members — everyone is seeking answers. And Scripps News Tulsa has been working for over a week now to get those answers.

Senior reporter Justin Ayer called Owasso police and Owasso Public Schools multiple times, and the response he got was almost identical every time: They're waiting on a ruling from the medical examiner before any further action can be taken.

The case is a tragedy, regardless. Former student Alexandria Davidson spoke with Scripps News Tulsa about Nex.

"[Nex was] someone I used to walk in the halls with," Davidson said. "Someone I could have been to class with is no longer a part of our lives."

Owasso Public Schools released a second statement on Feb. 20, nearly two weeks after the fight, and provided some more details about what happened. The school said it has limited statements on the matter in an effort to not disrupt the police investigation.

OPS said there will be pieces to the story they can never share due to federal privacy laws, but they wanted to clear up misinformation surrounding the incident.

"We understand the importance of ensuring a safe and inclusive environment for all students and know that the information below doesn’t change the facts that a fight occurred on school grounds and a student passed away the next day," OPS said.

SEE MORE: The long history of nonbinary identities

"We understand that for many, additional questions remain, however these are the facts that we are able to communicate at this juncture," the school said. "The loss of a student, a member of the Ram Family and the Owasso community, is devastating. We recognize the impact that this event has had on the entire school community and it is our priority to foster an environment where everyone feels heard, supported, and safe. If there is ever a concern about student safety or well-being, please reach out to a teacher, counselor or principal at your child’s school. As we continue to mourn the loss of this student, our hearts go out to their family and they will continue to be in our prayers. We are here to support them and everyone who has been affected by this situation."

There was additional confusion initially surrounding the gender identity and name of the victim, but that was resolved after Sue Benedict, Nex's mother, released the following statement on Feb. 20. Nex was nonbinary and used they/them pronouns.

"We at this time are thankful for the ongoing support and did not expect the love from everyone. We are sorry for not using their name correctly and as parents we were still learning the correct forms. Please do not judge us as Nex was judged, please do not bully us for our ignorance on the subject. Nex gave us that respect and we are sorry in our grief that we overlooked them. I lost my child, the headstone will have correct name of their choice. The rest of monies will go to other children dealing with the right to be who they feel they are, in Nex Benedict’s name. God bless."

Benedict's mother said Nex was an animal lover — especially of family cat Zeus. Family said they loved to cook and would often make up recipes. Benedict was also a straight-A student.

"[They were a] tough, but a great kid," mother Sue Benedict said at the funeral service. "I loved [Nex] so much."

Memorial donations can be made in memory of Benedict to Bikers Against Child Abuse or this GoFundMe page. 

A candlelight vigil is being held in Owasso on Feb. 25 to honor Nex. 

This story was originally published by Jennifer Maupin and Braden Bates at Scripps News Tulsa.

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