A seventh grader in Bedford County, Tennessee died by suicide on November 28 after he was ruthlessly bullied for being gay.
The parents of 12-year-old Eli Fritchley say his peers repeatedly told him he was going to Hell because of his sexuality.
“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,” Eli’s mom, Debbey told WHNT News.
Debbey also suspects students mocked Eli for the way he dressed. He loved pink, painted his nails, and wore the same SpongeBob sweatshirt almost daily.
“I think probably because he was in the same clothes every single day that they used that as a weapon,” Debbey said.
Eli’s dad, Steve, said he doesn’t think the students ever physically abused Eli, but that verbal abuse can be just as harmful.
“I think it was just words, but words hurt,” Steve said. “They really hurt.”
Nevertheless, Eli’s parents are shocked by what happened, as they said Eli usually brushed off the bullies.
“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,” they said.
Steve and Debbey are now working on launching an anti-bullying foundation in Eli’s honor. Rob and Shondelle Lewis, owners of the Penalties Sports Bar & Grill, where Steve and Debbey are regulars, set up a GoFundMe to help raise money.
“I hope and pray, this unfortunate event we are going to make something of it,” Rob said. “We’ve got to. We are going to come up with some sort of anti-bullying program through this GoFundMe page where I pray to God this will not happen again.”
Education, Debbey said, is key to stopping bullying. The Fritchleys hope to prevent what happened to Eli from happening to other kids and families.
“We all failed him,” Debbey said. “We all failed him. It’s as simple as that.”