A 12-year-old from Bedford County, Tennessee has died after suffering homophobic abuse from school bullies.
Content warning: This story may include topics that some readers may find uncomfortable.
At the end of November, seventh-grader Eli Fritchley took his own life after experiencing incessant amounts of bullying from his classmates.
Described as a “peaceful soul”, Eli was unapologetically himself and played the trombone in Cascades Middle school’s marching band.
In an emotional interview with WKRN, Debby and Steve Fritchley opened up about their son and the type of abuse he experienced.
“He was told because he didn’t necessarily have a religion and that he said he was gay that he was going to go to hell. They told him that quite often,” Debby said.
She also said that because he painted his nails pink, and wore a Spongebob Squarepants sweatshirt everyday, students gave him a difficult time at school.
“I think probably because he was in the same clothes every single day that they used that as a weapon,” she explained.
“It was really abusive. I don’t think it was ever physical. I think it was just words, but words hurt. They really hurt,” Steve added.
Eli’s parents went on to say that their son combated the bullying with compassion and never pinpointed any of the perpetrators by name.
“He didn’t care, or at least we thought he didn’t care, and that’s what’s really difficult for us because we thought he didn’t care,” they said.
“This has just blindsided us. This is something we would have never, ever expected.”
Eli’s death was discovered by his mother on Sunday evening (28 November) when she went to check on him in his bedroom.
Although Eli was loved by his family and friends, his parents have said that they “failed him” for not knowing the extent of his abuse.
“We all failed him. We all failed him. It’s as simple as that.”
In the wake of this family tragedy, a GoFundMe has been created to start up an anti-bullying foundation in Eli’s name.
“This fund is being set up in memory of Eli and 100% will go to a foundation being created that will go towards helping other kids and families that might be in the same situation as the Fritchley’s so that this terrible tragedy doesn’t have to happen again,” the statement read.
Rob and Shondelle Lewis, who are the organisers of the page and family friends of the Fritchley’s, opened up about the program in a statement.
“I hope and pray, this unfortunate event we are going to make something of it,” Rob explained. “We’ve got to. We are going to come up with some sort of antibullying program through this Gofundme page where I pray to God this will not happen again.”
Over the last few days, the page has seen huge amounts of support from community members and has earned over $45,000.
Further advice and resources on suicide from the International Association for Suicide Prevention are available here.