Channing Smith’s family are now calling for an investigation into the ‘social media bullying’ after his explicit messages were leaked.
The 16-year-old, who was a junior at Coffee County Central High School, hadn’t openly discussed his sexuality or identified as LGBTQ+, according to his girlfriend and brother.
His older brother, Joshua Smith, told Buzzfeed News:
They were graphic texts and 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 pm. Sunday night, freaking out. His last posting on Instagram was about people he couldn’t trust.
Joshua added that his dad found Channing when he woke up and noticed the light was still on in his bedroom.
The light was still on under his door when my dad got up at 4 a.m. so he went in to check on him. He’s still in shock.
It’s reported the student had gotten into an argument with another teenager who is close friends with the boy Channing had been messaging.
Buzzfeed reports that a junior at the school said the girl was angry she didn’t know about the ‘sexting’ and posted them on social media to be vindictive.
Keylee Duty, who launched a group called Justice for Channing, told the publication:
She was just doing it to be mean.
Hailey Meister, who said she had been in a relationship with Channing for around a month before his death, said the messages were old and were posted ‘to humiliate him’.
She told Buzzfeed:
He didn’t deserve that. He was kind and loving and a very good person.
The 17-year-old went on to say that Channing had told her ‘how bad it made him feel and it was a mistake…he was trying to find himself and people called him bisexual, but he never classified specifically as that.’
CHANNING’S VOICE WILL BE HEARD‼️By working together we can accomplish and put a end to the hate crimes happening here‼️…
Posted by Justice for Channing on Friday, 27 September 2019
Keylee said Channing suffered at the hands of bullies even before the messages were posted, saying ‘no one liked him’ because he ‘talked in a girly voice and walked with sass.’
Channing lived in a ‘stereotypical small, southern town,’ according to his brother, where coming out as gay would’ve been a ‘hard conversation.’
After the school failed to acknowledge the teen’s death, dozens of students held a ‘strike’ to condemn bullying and pay tribute to Channing. They used materials from art teachers to spray paint shirts and bright posters which said ‘Justice for Channing’. However, Keylee said the principle forced them to ‘take the shirts off an put the posters away.’
We refused. Not only me, but his close friends and people who loved him stood during the assembly holding our posters.
We believe the school refused to do anything because what happened to Channing involved gay rights.
It’s believed Channing called a girl and told her he wanted to kill himself but that he seemed ‘okay’ at the end of the call, so she chose not to tell anyone.
Now, his brother is urging people to report it and ‘don’t let it go’ if they hear someone say they’re feeling suicidal.
Rest in peace, Channing.
If you’ve been affected by bullying, and want to speak to someone in confidence, contact Bullying UK (part of Family Lives) on 0808 800 2222. The helpline service is open 9am – 9pm, Monday to Friday and 10am – 3pm Saturday and Sunday.
If you have experienced a bereavement and would like to speak with someone in confidence contact Cruse Bereavement Care via their national helpline on 0808 808 1677.
Emma Rosemurgey is an NCTJ trained Journalist at UNILAD. She graduated from the University of Central Lancashire in Preston and started her career in regional newspapers before joining the LADbible Group team in 2017.