COFFEE COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) – A community trying to heal from a teenager’s tragic suicide now has a new memorial mural to honor his life with the hopes of preventing it from happening to anyone else.
The 16-year-old boy, Channing Smith committed suicide on Sept. 23. His parents say he was cyberbullied after coming out as bi-sexual. They say sexually explicit messages he had sent to a male classmate were posted on social media.
“It’s very, very tragic, and very sad. This could’ve been me, this could have been my friends, this kind of stuff was happening and is still happening,” said Elle Goodrich who has lived in Manchester her whole life.
“I went to all the way through the 9th grade, then I was homeschooled because of bullying here,” she told News 2, “I heard about this, I don’t know him, but I know people who knew him. It’s very very tragic and very sad.”
Goodrich shared words of pain on behalf of the entire community.
She and several others stopped on Woodbury Highway just off I-24 Friday to find a little peace in a picture on the wall of Foothills Crafts– a mural dedicated to Smith.
It displays Smith’s face with soft lips and heavy eyes as the hands of the community reach up to him in Heaven.
“Everybody who’s come by has talked about how sweet of a kid he is, so we really wanted to convey that, you can see he’s surrounded by these hands and that is to show the support that is available,” said one of the two muralists Sarah Painter.
Tullahoma nonprofit DMA Events had asked Painter and Cosby Hayes to take a trip from their home in Tallahassee to paint a mural before Smith’s suicide. They were in Tullahoma drafting ideas for days when Smith hit headlines and they knew right away what the community needed.
“My gut was this is why they were here, this is their art that they do,” said Scott Vanvelsor with DMA Events.
“This is a great opportunity, not only does it bring up suicide through bullying with teenagers, but also with the military,” said Cindy Raybern with the Foothills Crafts Board of Directors, “There’s a lot of our military that are suicide, also elderly, you know, its just not one person, but this represents everybody.”
“I would say every hour at least someone would stop and come and either just watch, or some wanted to talk, I had one woman cry on my shoulder,” Painter said.
Painter and Hayes added the words “You are not alone” with the phone number to the suicide prevents hotline on the top of the mural, with hopes that others will seek help if they are feeling lonely.
That number is 1-800-273-8255.
Goodrich says the mural means Smith will never be forgotten.
“It’s not something to be pushed under the rug, it’s not something to forget about,” Goodrich said, “The younger LGBT people here need to know that this is not okay and that we don’t want it to happen again. We don’t want you to hurt. There are people here that support you, who love you, who have gone through this and who are willing to reach out to you. “