Bullied Gay 12-Year-Old, Told He Would Go to Hell, Dies by Suicide

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday December 9, 2021
Originally published on December 9, 2021

The deadly toll of anti-LGBTQ+ bullying claimed another life with the Nov. 28 suicide of 12-year-old Eli Fritchley in Nashville, Tennessee. The boy had faced "really abusive" harassment, his parents say.

Among the things bullies told the boy was that he was going to Hell for being gay, reports say.

Eli's suicide "blindsided" his family, news accounts said.

"He didn't care" what his schoolmates thought, his mother, Debbey Fritchley, told local news channel WKRN, "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."

Bullies targeted Eli over his daily choice of clothing, Debbey said, which included a SpongeBob sweatshirt, UK newspaper The Independent detailed.

"I think probably because he was in the same clothes every single day that they used that as a weapon," Debbey told the media, adding that Eli "enjoyed doing the laundry, washing his clothes every day," The Independent said.

But schoolmates also used religion as a weapon in their homophobic harassment, she added.

"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," Debbey said. "They told him that quite often."

Eli's father, Steve, added that the abuse wasn't physical, but even so, "It was really abusive." Steve went on to add: "I think it was just words, but words hurt. They really hurt."

Debbey found Eli dead on Nov. 28.

"That image was terrible until we got to hold him yesterday," Debbey said. "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."

Eli's death spurred some in the community to action: Rob and Shondelle Lewis, who own a local restaurant where the family have been frequent diners, are helping Eli's parents start a foundation. The Lewises have started a GoFundMe to that end, UK newspaper the Daily Mail said.

"This fund is being set up in memory of Eli and 100% will go to a foundation being created that will go towards helping other kids and families that might be in the same situation as the Fritchley's so that this terrible tragedy doesn't have to happen again," text at the GoFundMe says. The GoFundMe has raised over $40,000 at the time of this story's publication.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.