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Shelby, 14, died by suicide in April 2019. According to a press release from the office of civil rights and personal injury attorney Ben Crump, Shelby was “bullied by his peers for his race and sexual orientation” and school officials failed to alert his parents. After his death, school administrators are alleged to have told Shelby’s mother Camika to look for a suicide note in his backpack.
The suit against the City of Huntsville Board of Education focuses on what Crump and co-counsel Jasmine Rand, as well as local counsel Lynn Sherrod and David J. Johns of the National Black Justice Coalition, argue was a violation of Shelby’s civil rights and a wrongful death.
A press conference regarding the lawsuit is set for 11 a.m. ET on Tuesday and will see the legal counsel joined by parents Camika Shelby and Patrick Cruz.
Shortly after Shelby’s 2019 death, an Alabama deputy was suspended for making anti-LGBTQ comments on a Facebook post referencing homophobic bullying.
“Society cannot and should not accept this behavior,” the deputy, Jeff Graves of Madison County, said. Graves also mentioned “liberty, guns, bible, Trump, and BBQ” in his comments.
When reached by Complex for additional comment on Monday, a rep from Huntsville City Schools pointed to a statement on the then-impending second anniversary of Shelby’s death that was first shared in late March:
“Huntsville City Schools is approaching nearly two years since Nigel Shelby, a freshman at Huntsville High School, tragically died by suicide at his home after school. This loss continues to be felt by both the school and district community.
In the coming days, the district anticipates a lawsuit to be filed by Camika Shelby, Nigel Shelby’s mother, who retained attorneys following her son’s passing. As is the case with most school districts, HCS does not typically discuss active or pending litigation.
However, the district wishes to remind students, families, and staff members of the longstanding resources in place to support students. At the district level, pillar two of the district’s strategic plan is Whole Student Development. This pillar includes resources dedicated to supporting the social and emotional needs of students. These include feeder-pattern social workers, licensed mental health professionals, and frequent professional development for staff on topics including: culturally responsive instruction; equity and inclusion; and suicide prevention.
Consistent with the district’s Core Values, HHS has a strong Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) in place to provide support to LGBTQ+ students, and the district has partnered with GLSEN and the Anti-Defamation League to support its schools and students.
Additionally, the district encourages all students to utilize these resources and to speak with a trusted adult at their school if they are experiencing thoughts of suicide. If any students or families have questions about the availability of these resources, please reach out to your school principal.”
In a 2019 interview, Camika remembered her son as “the sweetest child” and reflected on his dream of becoming a performer.
“He was outgoing, he was always full of joy, full of light, he was always singing, always dancing,” she told WAFF at the time. “He wanted to be a performer so you could probably see that.”
If you or someone you know is in crisis, help is available.