An Alabama teen who died by suicide after being bullied for being gay is being remembered as a positive force in his community. Meanwhile, a regional sheriff's deputy is now on leave after using news of the tragic death to publicly spew homophobia.
Nigel Shelby died by suicide on April 18 at 15 years old, the Madison County Coroner's office confirmed to local Huntsville outlet WHNT earlier this week. Shelby was a ninth grade student at Huntsville High School, where his family says he was met with frequent homophobic bullying.
At a school board meeting Monday, Huntsville City Schools Superintendent Christie Finley called for the community to "come together" to ensure students are taught acceptance. "It's clear to me that the simple word of the golden rule has really become more difficult for many to understand and to practice and it is time as a society to value, respect, and uplift one another," Finley said.
Nigel's mother, Camika Shelby, gave an emotional interview to WAFF Tuesday in which she remembered her son's desire to become a performer. "Nigel was the sweetest child. He was outgoing, he was always full of joy, full of light, he was always singing, always dancing. He wanted to be a performer so you could probably see that," she said.
Camika said Nigel came out to her two years ago, and though she doesn't squarely place the blame for his death on the bullying he received at school, she said its frequency coupled with his depression only maximized the problem. "I don't want him to be remembered as a kid who was bullied for being gay and who took his own life," she said. "He was so much more than that. He was sunshine."
Shelby's death has received the attention of a variety of LGBTQ advocacy groups, as well as public figures including Janelle Monáe and Kehlani.
In the comments section of a Facebook post on the teen’s death from WZDX, Madison County Deputy Jeff Graves mocked the LGBTQ community, saying "society cannot and should not accept this behavior." Graves has now been placed on administrative leave pending a "thorough and complete audit" by the Sheriff's Office, according to an AL.com report.
Do better, Alabama. And if you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, please notify someone at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.