MANCHESTER, Tenn. – Channing Smith, a 16-year-old from Manchester, Tennessee, took his own life on September 23 after two classmates publicized screenshots of explicit text conversations he had with another young man. Now, the Smith family is demanding justice for the teen – and in the process, they're raising awareness of the dangers of cyber bullying.
Channing's story gained attention after his older brother, Joshua Smith, posted an emotional note on Facebook about Channing's suicide. According to Joshua Smith, Channing shot and killed himself after friends posted chats on Snapchat and Instagram that outed the teen as bisexual.
The school and district attorney respond
Smith criticized Channing's school, Coffee County Central High School, in another post, claiming school leadership didn't do enough in the days following Channing's death.
"I'm beyond disappointed to say the least," Smith said of the school's response during an interview on CNN's New Day. Smith says the school didn't make mention of Channing's death on any of their social channels or website, and did not reach out to the Smith family.
Charles Lawson, the director of Coffee County Schools, told CNN in a statement that the school district " is not at liberty to make any statements concerning the matter at this time."
"Counseling was provided at the school for students and staff who were struggling with what occurred," the statement continued. "The Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network has reached out to provide resources for those that are dealing with this difficult situation."
The Smith family has also called out their local district attorney, Craig Northcott. In a Facebook post, Josh Smith said the DA
refuses to take any criminal action." On CNN's New Day, Smith answered affirmatively when asked if he thinks criminal charges should be brought against the students who shared Channing's messages.
In a statement provided to CNN, Northcott's office disputed the claim that he has purposefully avoided taking action regarding Channing's death.
"My office has encouraged, cooperated in and supported the investigation into the events leading to this death," the statement reads. Northcott goes on to say he cannot comment on an "open investigation or prosecution."
"When all relevant facts are available, my office will advise the Coffee County Sheriff's Department on what charges, if any, we believe are appropriate to help guide it in that decision."
A family mourns
In addition to their calls for #JusticeForChanning, Joshua Smith and the rest of the Smith family are urging people to consider the dangers of cyber bullying.
"The world will hear more from me. I'm not sure the direction that I'm headed but I will fight against bullying, suicide and hate!," Joshua Smith wrote in a Facebook post.
Crystal Smith, Channing's mother, told CNN affiliate WTVF people need to understand the deep consequences their actions can have.
"Just because you think it's cute or funny to make somebody embarrassed or humiliate them, think again," she said. "Because if somebody would have realized that, my son would not be dead."
A Facebook page set up to memorialize Channing has almost 2,000 followers and features photos of students from Channing's school holding signs supporting Channing's family and calling for an end to cyber bullying. Country star Billy Ray Cyrus also caught wind of the tragedy, and traveled to Manchester to attend a memorial for Channing.