A 12-year-old boy has taken his own life after being bullied for being g*y, his parents have disclosed.
Eli Fritchley, a seventh-grade student at Cascades Middle school in Shelbyville, south of Nashville in Tennessee, died on 28 November.
His parents told WKRN that Eli was a “peaceful soul” who didn’t hide his true self.
“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,” his mother, Debbey Fritchley, told the local TV station.
Eli, who was a trombone player in the school marching band, liked the colour pink, liked to paint his nails and wore the same clothes, specifically a SpongeBob sweatshirt, almost every day.
“I think probably because he was in the same clothes every single day that they used that as a weapon,” Ms. Fritchley said of his bullies, adding that Eli enjoyed doing the laundry, washing his clothes every day.
“He was told because he didn’t necessarily have a religion and that he said he was g*y that he was going to go to hell. They told him that quite often,” Ms. Fritchley said.
“It was really abusive. I don’t think it was ever physical. I think it was just words, but words hurt. They really hurt,” father Steve Fritchley said.
The parents said their son never put any blame on anyone else and would instead show compassion.
“This has just blindsided us. This is something we would have never, ever expected,” Ms. Fritchley said.
She found Eli, who leaves behind five brothers, in his bedroom on Sunday 28 November.
“That’s been really hard. That image was terrible until we got to hold him yesterday. Now that image is gone, because the only thing we could think of yesterday when we were kissing and loving on him was how angelic he looked. He absolutely looked angelic. He’s just an angel,” she told WKRN last week.
“We all failed him. We all failed him. It’s as simple as that,” she added.
The mother said education is needed “for everyone where bullying is concerned because it is a problem, not just in Bedford County. It’s a problem everywhere”.
Eli Fritchley's parents said they have received a large number of messages from others affected by bullying.
“This is a growing area and I think people need to be more accepting of new people, rather they like them, rather they are the same as them, everybody’s different. Accept them and respect them and parents need to focus on that with their kids more,” Ms. Lewis told WKRN.
Bedford County School Superintendent Dr. Tammy Garrett said in a statement that “we are absolutely shocked and devastated by this news. Anytime someone takes his or her life, especially a child, it is nearly unbearable. Our hearts go out to his parents and family as they deal with this terrible loss”.
“Raising caring, kind, resilient children is all of our jobs, and parents are not alone,” she added.