*The following article contains discussion of suicide/self-harm.
The parents of a 12-year-old boy who took his own life after being subjected to anti-gay bullying at school spoke out, saying everyone in their circle "failed him."
Fellow classmates at Cascades Middle School in Bedford County in Tennessee repeatedly harassed and taunted Eli Fritchley for his outfits and mannerisms. They also said he would go to hell because he was gay.
The bullying was too much to bear, and on November 28, the seventh-grader committed suicide.
You can watch a news report, here.
Eli's parents, Debbey and Steve Fritchley, described him as having a gentle soul and unafraid of being himself.
His favorite color was pink and he painted his nails. He would often wear the same SpongeBob SquarePants sweatpants to school, where he also played trombone in marching band.
“I think probably because he was in the same clothes every single day that they used that as a weapon," said Debbey.
“He didn’t care, or at least we thought he didn’t care, and that’s what’s really difficult for us because we thought he didn’t care."
“He was told because he didn’t necessarily have a religion and that he said he was gay that he was going to go to Hell. They told him that quite often,” she recalled of the bullying Eli endured.
The grieving parents said they were aware of the bullying but didn't know to what extent Eli had been suffering because of it.
Through tears, Steve, said:
"It was really abusive. I don’t think it was ever physical. I think it was just words, but words hurt. They really hurt."
Debbey, who made the tragic discovery on Sunday explained what it has been like for her and Steve since losing their boy.
“This has just blindsided us. This is something we would have never, ever expected.”
“That’s been really hard. That image was terrible until we got to hold him yesterday. Now that image is gone, because the only thing we could think of yesterday when we were kissing and loving on him was how angelic he looked."
"He absolutely looked angelic. He’s just an angel.”
The Fritchleys are in the process of setting up a foundation to help educate people on bullying and to spread awareness ensuring no child or parent will suffer the same heartache.
“I honestly think education, education, education for everyone where bullying is concerned because it is a problem, not just in Bedford County. It’s a problem everywhere," said Debbey.
The owners of Penalties Sports Bar & Grill in Shelbyville–Rob and Shondelle Lewis–have become close with the Fritchleys as regular patrons.
They set up a GoFundMe page to help.
“I hope and pray, this unfortunate event we are going to make something of it."
"We’ve got to."
"We are going to come up with some sort of antibullying program through this Gofundme page where I pray to God this will not happen again."
If you or someone you know is struggling, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
To find help outside the United States, the International Association for Suicide Prevention has resources available at https://www.iasp.info/resources/Crisis_Centres/
LGBTQ+ Youth can get help through:
- TrevorChat — 24/7/365 at https://www.thetrevorproject.org/get-help-now/#services
- TrevorLifeline — phone service available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386
- TrevorText — Text “START” to 678678. Available 24/7/365.
- TrevorSpace — online international peer-to-peer community for LGBTQ young people and their friends at https://www.trevorspace.org/
- Trevor Support Center — LGBTQ youth & allies can find answers to FAQs and explore resources at https://www.thetrevorproject.org/resources/trevor-support-center/#sm.0000121hx9lvicotqs52mb1saenel