The mother of Nigel Shelby, a 15-year-old who died by suicide in April after persistent homophobic bullying, is calling for an investigation into her son’s death, alleging that school administrators may have had some influence on Nigel’s mental health.
“After my son passed, I learned that he had several discussions about homosexuality with school administrators and was told that being gay was a choice,” Camika Shelby said in a statement released Monday by the National Black Justice Coalition. Nigel Shelby was a student at Huntsville High School in Huntsville, Alabama.
“I was never contacted by the school and informed that my son was struggling with his sexual identity and regularly having discussions with a school administrator,” she added. “Several hours after my son died, a school administrator called me and told me to look for a suicide note in his backpack. People at his school knew that [he] planned to take his own life. I need to find out who knew and why nobody told me until after he died.”
Attorneys Benjamin Crump and Jasmine Rand are investigating Shelby’s death. They also represented the family of Trayvon Martin, who was shot and killed by his neighbor, George Zimmerman, in 2012.
“Suicide rates of Black gay boys are on the rise as they are struggling with the matrix of oppression presented by being both Black and gay,” David Johns, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, also said in the statement. “We will work with Nigel’s mother and his attorneys to determine changes that can be made within his school, and other schools in the community, to support culturally competent and intercultural awareness through sex education and other inclusion and anti-bullying policies.”
At the time of Shelby’s death, Aaron King, the principal of his school, wrote in a statement, “We were saddened to learn this morning of the death of Nigel Shelby, one of our 9th grade students. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family during this difficult time.”
Camika Shelby previously said Nigel had been regularly seeing doctors and psychiatrists to deal with his depression. “A lot of people don’t understand that depression is a real disease,” she also said earlier this month. While she said that she doesn’t blame the death solely on the bullying, she points out that it likely exacerbated an already tumultuous internal battle as Nigel struggled to accept himself. But, “he was more than that,” she said.
According to the Center for Social Equity, 74 percent of LGBTQ+ youth say they don’t feel safe at school.
If you or someone you know is feeling hopeless or suicidal, contact The Trevor Project’s TrevorLifeline 24/7/365 at 1-866-488-7386. Counseling is also available 24/7/365 via chat everyday at TheTrevorProject.org/help or by texting 678-678.