Channing Smith, a high school junior in Manchester, Tennessee, committed suicide last week after another student posted private text messages between Smith and another boy resulting in outing the teen as bisexual, reports Buzzfeed News.
Smith had apparently kept his attraction for other boys a secret, but an argument with another teenager who is close to the boy he’d been messaging became upset that she “didn’t know about the sexting and posted the screenshots to be vindictive”, according to Keylee Duty, a fellow student at Smith’s school.
“She was just doing it to be mean,” Keylee told Buzzfeed.
Smith had been dating 17-year-old Hailey Meister for a month prior to his suicide.
“He didn’t deserve that,” she shared. “He was kind and loving and a very good person.”
Meister added that Smith told her when the screen captures were shared on social media “how bad it made him feel and it was a mistake.”
She also says Smith was “trying to find himself” and hadn’t explicitly identified as bisexual before his death.
His older brother, 38-year-old Joshua Smith, says the nature of the text messages were explicit to the point that “there was no room for Channing to be able to claim it was a misunderstanding.”
“When he saw the screenshots on social media he called some people around 10 p.m. Sunday night, freaking out,” he added. “His last posting on Instagram was about people he couldn’t trust.”
Smith’s body was found by his father at around 4 a.m. The father had noticed Smith’s light on in his room and went to check on him.
“He’s still in shock,” says Joshua.
The older brother explained that life in their “small, Southern town” could be “complicated.”
“You could be gay and still like the Confederate flag and shoot pistols,” says Joshua. But to be labeled “gay, queer, or a sissy” would be devastating for a high school junior he added.
The local Fox affiliate reports that Joshua says his brother called the female classmate who posted the private messages and said her he was going to kill himself. According to Joshua, she didn’t reach out to Channing’s family or any suicide prevention hotline.
A complication in the case comes as the family feels Coffee County District Attorney Craig Northcott isn’t being appropriately pro-active in investigating the cyber-bullying Channing experienced by fellow students.
Joshua told Buzzfeed that “investigators spent only a day” on the case, and “didn’t confiscate the kids’ phones’ saying they didn’t have the technology to ‘bypass the passcodes.’”
In August, Instinct reported on Northcott’s statements in a 2018 video where he said he disagreed with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 Obergefell ruling which made same-sex marriage legal in the U.S.
He also shared that he doesn’t prosecute domestic cases involving LGBTQ people because he doesn’t believe a marriage exists.
In a statement regarding the Smith case, Northcott said that while he can’t comment on an open investigation, he said allegations that his office had failed to act are “inaccurate” as the investigation has not been completed.
Smith’s family and friends are also critical of Channing’s high school for not making a public statement about his death or to condemn bullying.
“They haven’t made any mention about him or his death on their website, on Facebook, anywhere,” Joshua said. “They haven’t offered counseling to the kids or gathered them to talk about anti-bullying.”
“The principal told my father that he felt like we would not want anything at our memorial service that says justice for Channing, which was total bullshit,” added the older brother.
When Channing’s friend attempted to make a statement wearing t-shirts asking for “Justice for Channing,” the principal demanded they remove the shirts.
“We refused. Not only me, but his close friends and people who loved him stood during the assembly holding our posters,” said Keylee. “We believe the school refused to do anything because what happened to Channing involved gay rights.”
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. Other international suicide helplines can be found at befrienders.org. You can also text TALK to 741741 for free, anonymous, 24/7 crisis support in the US from the Crisis Text Line.