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Tenn. high schooler dies by suicide after online homophobic harassment

A Tennesse family is mourning the loss of one of their own today after he died by suicide following, what his brother says was, cyberbullying at school for his perceived sexual orientation.

High schooler Channing Smith, 16, died between September 22 and September 23 according to NBC. Confused about why his half-brother would take his own life, Joshua Smith began to investigate, and he says he found that classmates were bullying Channing for being gay. 

“I just went out on a limb and started cold messaging kids that were apparently his friends,” Joshua Smith told TODAY.com. “Within just a couple of hours, I was able--just from talking to kids--to put together a storyline.”

Joshua discovered texts of a sexual nature from Channing to another boy. Channing's ex-girlfriend allegedly found those texts and in turn shared them on social media, and “pretty much outs my brother for being gay,” said Joshua. 

He added: "I think these kids need to be held accountable at some level."

It should be noted that the underlying causes of most deaths by suicide are multifaceted and not always immediately obvious.

Another classmate, Faith Honea, says Channing was not out at school. 

"It just breaks my heart that people found out and made fun of him for it," she said. "The people who exposed him had absolutely no right. They made fun of him, hurt him and above all made him feel alone."

Country singer Billy Ray Cyrus took part in a memorial service for Channing on Thursday.

"Lifting up Channing this morning with his family and friends. His dad David played with us. And thanks to the Manchester, TN community for opening up their park and more importantly... their hearts with me and the band," Cyrus tweeted on Sunday. 

GLAAD suggests that there are ways to stand up to bullying should a person experience it first-hand: 

  •  Know that everyone has the right to feel safe.
  • Respond to anti-LGBT language and behavior: When you hear homophobic comments and jokes, even when not directed at a specific individual, let the person(s) making the comments know you find them offensive.
  • If you see anti-LGBT bullying, let the perpetrator know his or her behavior is wrong and harmful.  If the situation is such in which you do not feel safe intervening, alert a teacher or administrator immediately. 
  • If you know someone has experienced anti-LGBT bullying, let them know you are on their side and make an effort to spend time with the person at school. 
  • Confront your own prejudices and homophobia, even if it is uncomfortable to do so.
  • Know that all people, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity, should be treated with dignity and respect.

If someone you know displays thoughts of suicide or other self-harm, notify a teacher or administrator right away and call the Trevor Project Lifeline at: 866-4-U-TREVOR (866-488-7386) to speak with a trained volunteer counselor.