A seventh-grader in Bedford County, Tennessee took his own life on November 28 after he was relentlessly bullied for being openly gay at school.
Eli Fritchley, a 12-year-old who attended Cascades Middle school, was described by his parents as a peaceful soul who wasn’t afraid to be himself.
“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,” his parents said as they teared up.
Eli played the trombone in the marching band, painted his nails, loved the color pink and wore the same SpongeBob sweatshirt nearly every day.
“I think probably because he was in the same clothes every single day that they used that as a weapon,” his mom Debbey explained, saying he loved doing the laundry and cleaning his clothes every day.
“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,” said Debbey.
“It was really abusive. I don’t think it was ever physical. I think it was just words, but words hurt. They really hurt,” said his father Steve.
Eli’s parents say he never blamed anyone and would instead respond to the hate by shining compassion and innocence from his gentle soul.
“This has just blindsided us. This is something we would have never, ever expected.”
Eli’s mother made the tragic discovery Sunday night in his bedroom.
“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,” she cried.
“We all failed him. We all failed him. It’s as simple as that.”
The Fritchleys say then now have a new mission, pleading to stop bullying with hopes that no other child or parent goes through their 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.”
“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,” said Rob.
Eli leaves behind five brothers.