Editor's note: This story discusses suicide. If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide please call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text TALK to 741741 or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources. Or contact The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth at 1-866-488-7386 or by texting START to 678678.
A high school student died by suicide after his family and friends say he was outed on social media by classmates. He was 16 years old.
Channing Smith was an 11th grade student at Coffee County High School in Manchester, Tennessee. Brooke Green rode the bus with him to school.
"He would always try to help others," Green told TODAY Parents in an email. "Channing put others before himself and his needs. Always."
"He was a really, really sweet kid," Faith Honea, a classmate and friend of Channing's since 9th grade, told TODAY. "He always tried his best to make people smile and he succeeded every time. Even with the teachers, he would bring in drinks and chocolate to one of his teachers and try to make her day better. He really loved music. He was a really great singer. He was just really nice."
"Every LGBTQ youth deserves to know that they are never alone, that their lives have value."
Channing's body was discovered early Monday morning by his father at their home, the Coffee County sheriff's office confirmed to TODAY.
"Initially, I was upset thinking that my dad had done something to make him wanna do this," Joshua Smith, Channing's older brother, told TODAY. "I couldn't help but think that, but after crying with my dad for a few hours, I decided that it wasn't a singular incident that had happened at home."
"Later, I decided to just start messaging kids that were friends with him through social media," Joshua explained. "Within a couple of hours, I was able to put together a storyline that my brother engaged in texting with another boy. They were sexually explicit in nature, and the boy had turned these screenshots over to a girl who released them on social media."
The conversations reviewed by TODAY were sexually explicit.
Faith says that after the screenshots were shared on social media, Channing, who was not out as LGBTQ at the time, was cyberbullied by classmates.
"I didn't freak out like most people," Faith said. "I support him. I have no problem with bi, or LGBTQ. I have no problem with them. They are really funny, sweet people. It just breaks my heart that people found out and made fun of him for it."
"The people who exposed him had absolutely no right," Green added. "They made fun of him, hurt him and above all made him feel alone."
According to the American & Adolescent Psychiatry, suicide is the second leading cause of death for children, adolescents and young adults ages 15 to 24. Lesbian, gay and bisexual youth seriously contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of their heterosexual counterparts. Lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to heterosexual youth.
"We are heartbroken to hear about the passing of Channing Smith," Amit Paley, CEO and Executive Director of The Trevor Project, told TODAY in an emailed statement. "At the Trevor Project, we hear from LGBTQ young people daily who have thoughts of suicide or feel unsafe or unloved at school or home — just for being who they are. We know how challenging coming out can be at any age, especially in environments that may include risk factors for increased rates of discrimination, rejection, and bullying. Every LGBTQ youth deserves to know that they are never alone, that their lives have value, and are loved."
Channing's family is hoping that the teens who were involved face consequences for outing him.
"We want to have forgiveness in our heart for the kids," Joshua said. "We don't think ruining these kids' life will bring back our brother, nor does it really show a heart of compassion but I do think they need to be held accountable on some level... on a moderate level. We are looking for the local authorities to take some sort of criminal action and holds these kids accountable."
TODAY has reached out to district attorney general Craig Northcott for comment and will update this article if he responds.
Faith and Brooke organized a memorial in honor of Channing, where an estimated 200 people showed up to remember him.
On what she hopes people take away from Channing's story, Faith said: "I hope they take it as a lesson to see what cyberbullying and things like that can do. To be nicer, and to be more aware and to just pay attention to people and treat people better because it needs to be done or stuff like this will keep happening, and we don't need it to keep happening."