We’ve lost another gay teen.
In the early morning of New Year’s Day, 18-year-old Jeffrey Fehr hanged himself at his family’s Granite Bay, CA, home, reports the Sacramento Bee.
The accomplished teen’s suicide inspired an outpouring of grief at memorial services, attended by almost 1,000 people on Saturday.
“So many people gained strength from Jeff,” his father said at the funeral, looking out at the crowd. “The unfortunate part is that Jeff didn’t realize it.”
His father, Steve, thinks that years of anti-gay bullying was the reason he chose to end his life, though he had recently broken up with a boyfriend and had been treated for depression in the past.
“We will second-guess ourselves forever,” said Steve Fehr. “But we do know that for years and years, people knocked him down for being different. It damaged him. It wore on him. He could never fully believe how wonderful he was, and how many people loved him.”
Though Jeffrey came out as a sophomore and was accepted and embraced by his parents, he was the target of schoolyard abuse as early as the third grade. “He would come home from school and cry,” said older brother Tyler, 21. “He would say he felt alone, that he wasn’t accepted for the things he liked.”
By the sixth grade, classmates would call him “fag.” Jeffrey’s mother, Pati, said seeing her son abused like that “broke her heart”— she and Steve sent him to counseling for depression and tried to build his confidence by encouraging him to pursue art, theater and dance.
High school proved to be no haven. “He would literally hang his head when I dropped him off,” his father recalled. “It was just awful for him.” The taunts continued, and in one instance a classmate upended a lunch tray on Jeffrey as others laughed. Another time, someone painted the Fehr driveway with anti-gay slurs.
Cheerleading, it seemed, was Jeffrey’s saving grace. As the Bee reports:
He joined the high school cheer squad, whose members previously had been all girls, and found a community that adored him. As a senior he was the team’s captain, and mastered handsprings, backflips and other feats. Later he joined an elite competitive team.”Cheer gave him a lot of acceptance, because it was something he was really good at,” said fellow squad member Shayla Chock, 16.
Jeffrey’s body grew strong and muscular, and at 6 feet, 3 inches tall he towered over his teammates. He flashed a brilliant smile and had a posse of close friends, mostly girls a couple of years younger than he.
“Jeff loved everyone with everything he had,” said his pal Carly Flajole, also 16. “He always wanted everyone to get along, without drama. He was a leader.”
In the week before his death, he drove to Los Angeles to visit his boyfriend. When he returned, he told his parents they had broken up, but didn’t seem too down about it. Steve and Pati were on their way out of town and urged Jeffrey not to stay at home alone for New Years. He didn’t listen and next day a neighbor found Jeffrey’s body hanging from a rope in the front entry.
While it will never heal their pain, we hope the Fehr family can take some solace from the outpouring of love and support on Saturday.
Photo via RIP Jeffrey Fehr