Tenn. Boy, 16, Dies by Suicide After Classmates Out Him by Sharing Sexually Explicit Texts
Channing Smith, 16, took his own life after classmates allegedly outed him by sharing explicit messages he sent to another male student
A Tennessee teenager died by suicide after two classmates allegedly outed him by sharing sexually explicit texts he had exchanged with a male classmate on Instagram and Snapchat.
Now, his family and friends are demanding authorities investigate — and criminally charge — the teens accused of outing 16-year-old Channing Smith, outlets including Nashville station WZTZ, The New York Times and The Washington Post report.
On Sept. 23, Channing, of Manchester, posted a cryptic message on Instagram saying, “I’m gonna get off social media for awhile,” WZTZ reports.
“I really hate how I can’t trust anyone because those I did were so fake. Bye.”
The Coffee County High School junior fatally shot himself hours after learning that classmates had allegedly shared intimate messages he exchanged with another male on social media.
When Channing saw the texts on social media, he was mortified, brother Joshua Smith told WZTZ.
“They did it to just completely humiliate and embarrass my brother,” Joshua said.
“Being in a small, rural town in the middle of Tennessee, you can imagine being the laughingstock and having to go to school Monday morning,” Joshua said. “He couldn’t face the humiliation that was waiting on him when he got to school on Monday, so he shot and killed himself.”
• Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter.
This wasn’t the first time Channing had allegedly been bullied. Kids made fun of him because he sometimes “talked in a girly voice and walked with sass,” a classmate told BuzzFeed News.
Family Wants Charges — But D.A. Has Expressed Anti-LGBTQ Views
Joshua and others fear the teens who allegedly posted the messages will not be charged criminally.
“I was told by the lead investigator in Coffee County that he was pushing to have the kids charged criminally and the District Attorney’s office has decided that they did not want to pursue it,” Joshua Smith told WZTZ.
Coffee County District Attorney Craig Northcott made headlines in 2018 with anti-LGBTQ views he shared at a Bible conference.
He was reportedly recorded saying he didn’t believe in gay marriage and promised that same-sex partners wouldn’t receive protections from domestic violence laws, outlets including WZTZ report.
The state Supreme Court’s Board of Professional Responsibility began investigating Northcott in June, The Tennessean reports. The outlet reports Northcott also called Islam an “evil belief system.”
More than 200 Nashville lawyers called on the professional standards board to open an ethics investigation into his decisions, The Tennessean reports.
In a statement to PEOPLE, Northcott said his office had not “failed or refused” to investigate Channing’s death.
“I, like the rest of the community, am deeply saddened by the tragic loss of the young life of Channing Smith,” Northcott said in the statement.
“My office has encouraged, cooperated in and supported the investigation into the events leading to this death,” he added. “Ethically, I am prohibited from commenting on an open investigation or prosecution.”
“When all relevant facts are available,” Northcott said, “my office will advise the Coffee County Sheriff’s Department on what charges if any, we believe are appropriate to help guide it in that decision.”
Brother: ‘Being Gay Shouldn’t Be a Death Sentence’
As Smith’s family mourns his death, others including country music star Billy Ray Cyrus are honoring his life — and trying to prevent a similar tragedy from happening again.
Performing at a memorial for the teen in Manchester on Sunday, Cyrus — clad in a #JusticeForChanning T-shirt — and Channing’s father sang the boy’s favorite song, “Amazing Grace.”
“My heart breaks for Channing, his family, his friends, and the community,” Cyrus tweeted on Friday. “This is the saddest story. . . . Enough is enough.”
Channing’s father found his son’s body at about 4 a.m. when he saw the lights on in the boy’s room.
“My brother committed suicide because of the actions of 2 kids that he trusted that turned personal screen shot messages over to social media in a deliberate attempt to assassinate his character,” Joshua wrote Wednesday in a Facebook post entitled “Being gay shouldn’t be a death sentence.”
A Facebook page called Justice for Channing was created after the teen’s death. Hundreds attended a vigil honoring his life on Thursday in Manchester, a city of more than 10,000 people located about 65 miles southeast of Nashville.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text “home” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
For LGBTQ youth specifically, you can contact the Trevor Project 24/7 suicide prevention lifeline at 866-488-7386 or visit Trevorproject.org.