Family of gay teen who died by suicide take legal action against Alabama school

In April 2019, 14 year-old Nigel Shelby died by suicide after being allegedly bullied and unable to find support from school administrators.

A teenage boy gives a two fingered salute

The family of an openly gay Alabama teen who died by suicide have taken legal action against the school he attended for allegedly failing to stop the bullying he experienced or alert his parents about “his struggles.”  

In April 2019, 14 year-old Huntsville High School student Nigel Shelby died by suicide. His family called for a full investigation into the teen’s death, claiming he had been bullied in school and administrators failed in providing him with the necessary support. His mother Camika Shelby expressed, “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.”

Camika opened up about inquiring with school officials about her son’s well-being and being told there were no issues. She shared, “The worst part about all of this is, obviously, losing him, but the fact that all of this stuff was going on and I had no idea. It hurt me worse because as a parent, you want to do everything you can to protect your kid. I reached out to see what was going on at school and I was always told everything was fine. And it wasn’t fine.”

At a news conference on Monday, April 12 2020, Ben Crump Law announced the lawsuit against the Alabama school for allegedly failing to provide support for the teen. It further outlined the case, “Nigel Shelby was bullied by his peers for his race and sexual orientation, and when he sought help from school administrators, was told that his sexuality was his choice.”

“School administrators did not alert Nigel’s parents of his struggles in school so that he could receive help from a licensed mental health professional. On April 18, 2019, Nigel Shelby died by suicide. Following his death, school administrators alerted Nigel’s mother to look for a suicide note in his backpack, revealing that they were aware of his plans to take his own life,” the release continued.

Nigel’s family are moving forward with legal action against the City of Huntsville Board of Education for civil rights violations and wrongful death. Attorney Ben Crump stated, “We believe that implicit bias and discrimination, whether at the hands of the police who abuse their authority or the hands of school officials who abuse their authority and skirt their responsibilities, is just as important. […] Nigel never should have died by suicide.”

In 2019, Huntsville High School spokesperson Keith Ward told NBC News, “The administrators and counselors of Huntsville High School had a close relationship with Nigel during his time at the school. They worked with Nigel to ensure that he felt at home at Huntsville High.” He went on to say the board would “work with Shelby and her attorneys to answer questions they may have and to correct any misunderstandings or misinformation, to the extent possible.”

One of the civil rights attorneys representing Nigel’s family, Jasmine Rand, responded by stating, “Clearly they did not do what is right by Nigel because he is not here today.”

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