A 16-year-old high school student in Manchester, Tennessee has died by suicide after being outed as LGBTQ by his classmates.
Channing Smith took his own life on Sept. 22 after sexually explicit texts he sent to another male teenager were posted to Instagram and Snapchat by the recipient and his female friend, according to Smith’s family.
“That was my only brother and I loved him,” Joshua Smith, who learned of his brother’s death after his father called him “very upset, very shaken,” told FOX 17 News.
According to Smith, no one in the family knew the reason behind Channing’s death, so he reached out to his brother’s friends. He then learned about the texts outing Channing.
“They did it to just completely humiliate and embarrass my brother,” Smith says. “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.”
Smith said that Channing had called the female friend of the boy he had been texting saying he would kill himself, but the girl didn’t alert anyone.
Speaking to Buzzfeed News, Smith said that his brother hadn’t previously indicated or identified his sexuality.
“They were graphic texts and there was no room for Channing to be able to claim it was a misunderstanding,” Smith said.
A friend and classmate at Coffee County Central High School told Buzzfeed News that Channing was bullied at the school long before the texts were posted to social media, because the youth “talked in a girly voice and walked with sass.”
Smith told FOX 17 News that while Coffee County’s lead investigator said that he “was pushing to have the kids charged criminally” over Channing’s death, the District Attorney Craig Northcott’s office “has decided that they did not want to pursue it.”
Northcott, a Republican, is currently facing legal action from a coalition of LGBTQ organizations after earlier this year saying that he wouldn’t prosecute same-sex domestic violence cases because he doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage.
According to Smith, Northcott said it would take at least a month to reach a decision as to whether his office will pursue charges.
Last week, a vigil for Channing drew hundreds, with people carrying signs and wearing shirts reading, “Justice for Channing,” the Washington Post reports.
Country singer Billy Rae Cyrus performed at the memorial service, after learning of Channing’s death on the news.
“My heart breaks for Channing, his family, his friends and the community,” Cyrus tweeted last week. “This is the saddest story.… Enough is enough.”
He joined Channing’s father to sing “Amazing Grace,” reportedly Channing’s favorite song.
— Billy Ray Cyrus (@billyraycyrus) September 29, 2019
During the vigil, Joshua Smith directly addressed high school administrators, whom he accused of not acknowledging Channing’s death or taking action against the youths who posted the messages.
“I can assure you, your school hopes you forget, your town hopes you forget,” Smith said during the vigil. “But we’re not going to let that happen.… Action is going to be taken. We don’t get Channing back, that’s done, can’t go backward. But we can use this incident to create change moving forward.”
Channing’s mother, Crystal Smith, told the crowd: “Just because you think it’s cute or funny to make somebody embarrassed or humiliate them, think again. Because if somebody would have realized that, my son would not be dead.”
She added that her son was “the one kids went to” when they were in need.
“He would stay up all night talking to them, trying to talk them out of anything. I know he has talked kids out of suicide because he told me he did,” she said, adding, “I remember many times when I was having a hard time, I’d break down and cry and he’d come up to me and put his arms around me and say, ‘Momma, it’d be all right, it’d be okay,’ and that was Channing.”