Teen commits suicide after cyberbullies share explicit messages outing him as bisexual
A 16-year-old boy took his own life last week after two of his classmates shared his intimate messages on social media.
Channing Smith, a junior student at Coffee County Central High School in Manchester, Tenn., died by suicide on Sept. 23 after two fellow students posted screenshots of private messages that outed him as bisexual on Snapchat and Instagram, his relatives say.
The victim's brother, Joshua Smith, told WZTV he learned through Channing's friends that the sexually-explicit messages, which were between his younger brother and another teenage boy, were shared online Sunday night by the same boy and one of his female friends in what proved to be a fatal instance of cyberbullying.
"They did it to just completely humiliate and embarrass my brother," Smith told the station. "Being in a small, rural town in the middle of Tennessee, you can imagine being the laughing stock and having to go to school Monday morning. He couldn't face the humiliation that was waiting on him when he got to school on Monday, so he shot and killed himself."
Just before his suicide, Channing took to Instagram to share a final post, writing, "I really hate how I can’t trust anyone because those I did were so fake," according to the New York Times. His father found him dead in his room around 4 a.m. the following morning.
Smith took to Facebook to share an emotional plea after he learned of his brother's death, asking parents to have open discussions with their children to prevent similar tragedies.
"Parents... please have difficult conversations with your kids. I know I did. My wife and I told my son that if he turns out to be gay we would love him no matter what," Smith wrote. "This was a conversation that I never dreamed of having or posting about on social media. However... I refuse to allow Channing’s death to pass by without justice and positivity manifesting from his grave."
"Being gay shouldn't be a death sentence," he added. "Nobody deserves to die as they are figuring their way through this complex journey called life."
Smith has been a vocal critic of both his brother's high school and local authorities in their handling of the tragedy.
He claims administrators at Coffee County Central High School failed to mention Channing's death on the school's website or social media accounts, or even reach out to the family to offer condolences.
"I'm beyond disappointed, to say the least," he told CNN.
In response, Charles Lawson, director of Coffee County Schools, said the district "is not at liberty to make any statements concerning the matter at this time," and reassured that "counseling was provided at the school for students and staff who were struggling with what occurred."
Coffee County district attorney Craig Northcott spoke out after Smith accused officials of inaction for failing to bring criminal charges in the case, assuring the public that his office is investigating Channing's death.
"I, like the rest of the community, am deeply saddened by the tragic loss of the young life of Channing Smith," Northcott said in a statement. “My office has encouraged, cooperated in and supported the investigation into the events leading to this death. Ethically, I am prohibited from commenting on an open investigation or prosecution."
"When all relevant facts are available, my office will advise the Coffee County Sheriff’s Department on what charges, if any, we believe are appropriate to help guide it in that decision," he added. "Any report that my office has failed or refused to act is inaccurate and I wanted to clarify this for the sake of the Smith family as they do not need the added burden to the already incomprehensible pain that they are experiencing."