Leelah Alcorn, the transgender teen who committed suicide in Ohio on Dec. 28, opened up about a sense of desperation to a fellow classmate at Kings High School last year.
In a Facebook message to Raiden Quinn, Alcorn wrote, “Ever since I was 4, I knew I wish I was born a girl, and a couple of years ago I came out to my family and close friends as transsexual and they freaked out, in the bad way.”
“She always talked about how she felt people were not accepting of her,” Quinn tells PEOPLE. “It was really hard for me too when I went to school. When she posted her last letter, I remember feeling exactly the same way she did when I was her age. I tried not to let it show how hard it was for me.”
At the time, Quinn had come out as a gay male to classmates; now, Quinn identifies as a transgender woman. “I did my thing and it was really, really hard,” says Quinn, who wore makeup and high heels to school.
Quinn says she later tried to reach out to Alcorn, only to find that Alcorn’s Facebook had been disabled. “I wish that even though her parents weren’t accepting, I wish they hadn’t cut her off from getting help,” Quinn says. “She never talked about having support and it was heartbreaking that I couldn’t talk to her.”
Alcorn’s mom, Carla Alcorn defended herself and Alcorn’s father, Doug in a CNN interview.
“We loved him no matter what,” Carla Alcorn said. “I loved my son. People need to know that I loved him. He was a good kid, a good boy.” But Carla continuously referring to her child as a male, and using the teen’s given name, Joshua, drew criticism from transgender advocates and others.
Quinn believes she could have helped her classmate. “I know I could’ve helped her, which is the most frustrating part,” she says. “She could have had all the support in the world had she not been basically locked in prison. She seemed like she wanted to be herself; it’s so devastating when your own parents don’t let you do something as small as that.”
In Leelah Alcorn’s suicide note posted to Tumblr, the teen lashed out at her parents – and said she wanted her death to “mean something.” Alcorn also begged parents to accept their children, writing, “Even if you are Christian or are against transgender people, don’t ever say that to someone, especially your kid.”
The suicide note went viral and has brought national attention to the subject of transgender children. Many of Alcorn’s classmates told PEOPLE that they were unaware of the teen’s decision to be identified as a transgender female.
“She first identified herself as a gay male,” says Azalea Laverde, 16, who went to school with Alcorn and worked with her at nearby Kings Island theme park. “I just knew her as Josh Alcorn until she told me she was going to start going by ‘Leelah’ on her 17th birthday; Nobody knew [she had come out as transgender].”
As the controversy continues, Alcorn’s friends say they want to keep the teen’s memory alive.
“I want people to remember Leelah, not for just having a tragic end to her life,” says Quinn. “She was a sweet, caring, outgoing person. She still treated others way better than a lot of people treat others.”