Tennessee teen dies by suicide after outed online by classmates


NOTE: The following story involves suicide. If you or someone you know needs help handling thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or text TALK to 741741.

MANCHESTER, Tenn. (WTHR) — A Tennessee community is coping with a loss after a 16-year-old took his own life after classmates outed him online.

Channing Smith was in 11th grade at a Manchester, Tennessee high school.

His brother, Joshua, took to Facebook to address the day he got the "worst news" of his life. He said some of Channing's classmates were going to use Snapchat to expose him. When Channing couldn't face that cyberbullying, he instead took his own life.

The Coffee County Sheriff's Office told TODAY Channing's father found his body at home. Joshua said he reached out to a few of Channing's school friends and figured out what happened.

Joshua learned Channing had exchanged sexually explicit text messages with another boy. He showed the screenshots to another girl, and the girl put them on social media. Because Channing had not already come out as gay to his classmates, they cyberbullied him.

According to WSMV, after the message made it to social media, Channing posted, "I'm gonna get off social media for a while. I really hate how I can't trust anyone because those I did were so fake. Bye."

Now that Channing is gone, the community has come together to remember him and started a #JusticeForChanning hashtag on social media. The social media campaign even caught the attention of famed country star Billy Ray Cyrus.

"Lifting up Channing this morning with his family and friends," Cyrus said on Twitter. The message accompanied a photo of Cyrus at a memorial for Channing Sunday.

Students gathered at the memorial to remember Channing and the happy times prior to his death.

"He was a really, really sweet kid," Faith Honea told TODAY. "He always tried his best to make people smile and he succeeded every time."

According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, suicide is the second leading cause of death for children, adolescents and young adults ages 15 to 24. The Trevor Project — an organization focused on LGBTQ suicide prevention — found lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are five times as likely to have attempted suicide than heterosexual youth.

The Smith family hopes the classmates involved in the cyberbullying face proper consequences. However, older brother Joshua said he does not think ruining their lives will help.

"We are looking for the local authorities to take some sort of criminal action and holds these kids accountable," Joshua told TODAY.

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