14-Year-Old Pennsylvania Teen Brandon Bitner Killed Himself on Friday

Based on local news reports and attention in the blogosphere, it appears that Brandon Bitner ran in front of a tractor trailer at 3 am on Friday morning and killed himself, leaving behind a suicide note at home. He was 14, and a student at Midd-West High School in Middleberg, PA. Nicknamed Brando, he loved music, especially violin. He played Evanescence on the violin for his school talent show. The crowd loved it.

His family realized he was missing at 3:45 am and contacted the police; the road was closed for three hours after his body was found. (@queerty) (@shewired)

The Midd-West school district says there are no reported cases of bullying at their school. In fact, Brandon and his classmates had attended an anti-bullying seminar just a few days earlier. But his classmates feel that bullying was to blame for his death, no matter what the school says.

“It was because of bullying,” friend Takara Jo Folk wrote in a letter to The Daily Item.

“It was not about race, or gender, but they bullied him for his sexual preferences and the way he dressed. Which,” she said, “they wrongly accused him of…”

Former Midd-West student Erin Barnett sent a letter as well, blaming the school, saying that when students report bullying, “Nothing is done.”

There is no report that Bitner identified as gay, but he did dress “emo” and was the recipient of gay slurs and homophobia. “Anyone in our school who looks different is tortured,” said classmate Emily Beall-Ellersieck. Homophobia doesn’t just hurt gay people. The funny thing about the world we live in is that even being straight doesn’t protect you from the dangers of being gay. No one is safe from some things. Because if fourteen-year-olds in rural Pennsylvania aren’t safe, who is. No one.

The principal, Cynthia Hutchinson, was the one who called the anti-bullying assembly, saying that it was an issue that meant a lot to her personally. Bullying is now an issue that also means a lot to everyone else at Midd-West. Students have planned an event for Thursday, November 11, in which they leave their classrooms at 1 pm to stand in the hallways and hold hands for the sake of love and peace.

From Brandon’s memorial page at brandonbitner.com:

Brandon was intelligent, caring, passionate, and hilarious. He was quiet but he always caught you unexpectedly with a great comeback or one liner. He was insightful and read people well. His sensitive nature made it easy to get along with him. He accepted everybody – it didn’t matter if they were white, black, gay, straight, skinny, or fat.

His funeral will be Wednesday.


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Rachel

Rachel is Autostraddle's Managing Editor and the editor who presides over news & politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

Rachel has written 1142 articles for us.

26 Comments

  1. “The Midd-West school district says there are no reported cases of bullying at their school. In fact, Brandon and his classmates had attended an anti-bullying seminar just a few days earlier.”

    That’s laughable. There is bullying everywhere. anti bullying assemblies are awful. people sleep through them. people mock them. it’s going to take much greater cultural change to fix this.

    • It smacks of the former principal at my boss’s kid’s school who insisted, “There is no bullying at my school!” Saying so doesn’t make it so. Once she was ousted and a new principal came in, he said, “There is a huge bullying problem at this school,” and then did something to change it.

  2. A tractor trailer? I can’t even…
    I don’t know how you keep yourself sane, having to write about these awful things so often. Just reading them makes me feel like I’m going to explode into a wave of sadness and tears.

    • Copycat suicide is real, but at the same time, it is also important to reach out to people who may be contemplating suicide and let them know that they are not alone. If a suicide of a person experiencing bullying as a result of their percieved or actual sexual orientation is reported by the main stream media, it is possible that autostraddle has a role to play in making people feel like they are not alone. It is not just a black and white issue of copycat suicides, because there is this real sense of otherness which is fostered by the bullying and heteornormativity in general

      That said, maybe there are other ways we can do that. Maybe efforts could be focused on building an online community here. Also, I think Reise mentioned that a social networking side of autostraddle was in the works. It could be really effective having groups for people in particular locations, or with similar interests

    • The copycat effect is real. At the same time, there hasn’t been an increase in suicides of LGBTQ or LGBTQ-perceived kids this year. There’s been increased reportage. I don’t think the depths should be swept under the rug any more. People are now starting to do something and many would stop if they thought the problem was over.

    • here’s the thing: this story was reported many elsewheres first. if you read it here, you’re in a place where this very week hundreds of readers are meeting each other IRL and making new gay friends, and these people are making plans on a post that’s right there. all of the things are here. you see this story on newsweek and i imagine it would feel a lot more alienating.

      i guess i think it’s important that people know. the statistics of glbtq kids getting bullied are REDIC. 95% or something like that. but nobody thinks it’s real. We have Modern Family so basically don’t we have equality? When you can say to your parents or your friends — here, this is why this matters — I think that ultimately saves a lot more lives.

      idk i’ve been moving boxes all day and i think this comment will probs take 10-15 minutes to post at which time i will think it was silly whatever i said

      • Don’t worry, what you said was far from silly.

        Although it might not be a bad idea to put up links to suicide prevention hotlines at the end of these articles. Perhaps make a hidden post with hotlines from a number of countries (since not all readers are from the US) and link to it? Just a suggestion :)

  3. just…fuck.

    “Former Midd-West student Erin Barnett sent a letter as well, blaming the school, saying that when students report bullying, ‘Nothing is done.'”

    I know from personal experience that this is true. I was bullied in elementary school for being the quiet, geeky kid. My parents were at the school every other week and no one did anything. Nothing. As a future educator and human being, I don’t understand how you can not NOT do something about this.

    Also, I understand the copycat effect. It’s real, but how many people kept going after reading an article like this after realizing they aren’t alone or finding a resource or a friend? Those lives are important.

    Also, not talking about it adds to the stigma associated with mental illness in general. It literally is partially causing the problem, because once you get in that place, you feel scared and alone and society tells you that it isn’t okay to talk about it. Then you feel like you have nowhere to turn, but you do have places to go and people who understand you and want to help. Everything has its pros and cons, but the good outweighs the bad in this situation.

    Also, I’ll offer again. If anyone needs to talk, feel free to e-mail me: almostnormal1534[at]yahoo[dot]com

  4. Hugs. Just wanted to say again I agree with everything you just said.

    It really doesn’t do us any good in the long run to ignore these stories because the problems causing these suicides to happen would just continue to fester and it makes it difficult to have a chance to get better when it’s not even addressed. In these instances silence really can mean death.

    I’d like to put my email out there as well inthejunkdrawer at yahoo dot com. It really can help to talk.

  5. Riese, your comment is not at all silly, it is true, particularly ‘all of the things are here. you see this story on newsweek and i imagine it would feel a lot more alienating’–I haven’t read/listened much to the articles on mass media outlets but I am guessing they don’t include the kind of support given here such as other posters, phone numbers, email addresses and resources.
    I wonder if your staff ever struggles with reporting these events because they are not going to stop (and they aren’t a phenomenom, it’s been happening forever, just not reported like they are now as you know). However difficult it may be for your staff emotionally I commend you because visibility matters, even when it sucks like this kind.
    Finally, yes, copycat suicide is a real thing but precipitating factors are different around the world/cultures and it isn’t known currently if these recent incidents in US reflect an increase in overall statistics– due to lack of comparative data and other variables. Christ, most of the nation’s 34,000 suicides a year don’t get coverage.

  6. Kids who are not black don’t get called “Nigger”, the way some kids who are not gay get called “Faggot”. They get this because some children resemble the stereotype of a gay boy. It’s not considered masculine to be a good student, read books, dress well, play a musical instrument, help old ladies across the street etc. Only faggots would stoop to such unmasculine behaviour, in the minds of teenage bullies at least. Adults may well know these stereotypes are not true, but these are kids we’re talking about, some physically powerful beyond their mental development.

    ‘Gay’ is a universally accepted put-down, because there’s nothing a kid would more rather not be than gay. Even kitchen appliances and cars get called “so gay” if they malfunction. All this abuse heaped upon a harmless minority who never did anything bad to their attackers that could possibly justify vilification, violence and at the worst, murder in the first degree as befell 21yo Matthew Shepard.

    The worst bullies of them all are oftentimes gay kids who do not fit the stereotype and know too well that if they lie and pretend to be straight, are violent, homophobic, then they will be accepted and survive. You might be surprised how many men have been convicted of homophobic violence when the whole time they were gay themselves. A fully secure straight person in my experience is far less likely to be concerned about what gay boys are doing, because they’re too busy chasing females. I am gay myself but I was never bullied at school for it nor rejected by my family, and most of my friends are straight. They manifest no need to abuse or bash me. We know what we are and don’t try to change each other.

    In a school and in some communities it’s all very different. Being gay is lower than anything else bad that you can possibly be. You’d get more respect if you were a gun runner. If you’re bullied for being black however, you can always go home to your black mum and dad and they will be on your side. But if you’re gay, you don’t have a gay mum and dad to go home to, and more often than not, you would live in a home that is hostile to your homosexuality, and would beat the bejesus out of you if they found out. So you lie to them too. You *do not* tell them about your homophobic classmates bullying you for being gay so as to invite further aggression against you at home.

    Blaming a victim for being bullied or killed is no different to blaming a female for being raped. Most gay kids are out on their own. They have no support from their peers at school who hate them for being gay, some teachers who are homophobic may not intervene because they privately feel the kid deserves everything he gets for being gay, their parents will kick them out on the street, or try to beat the crap out of them until they stop saying they’re gay. And the Church? Well there lies the basic reason all this came about – they teach that gay is evil, and you’re possessed by the devil if you’re gay. Your only salvation lies in marrying a total stranger you have not the slightest sexual interest in, to please a god that doesn’t even resemble the teachings of Jesus Christ, so you can spend eternity in the company of a bunch of homophobic, bible bashing bigots. Speaking for myself, I would prefer Hell to that.

    That in a nutshell is why so often gay kids don’t stand up for themselves, because they are hopelessly outnumbered by bullies, often twice their size and much older. Many of the kids who die by their own hand are only 13 or 14, and often fit the stereotype outlined above. They’re not naturally violent and so they perish. Of course once they’ve killed themselves, the problem has gone away, the bullies remain at the school high-fiving each other as heroes, like they did after 15yo Billy Lucas hanged himself in his granny’s barn. Not content with that, they went on to post messages of hate on his memorial Facebook page, the same as they have been doing to Brandon Bitner.

    That took courage for this 14yo kid to walk in front of a truck, but no doubt that has changed the driver’s life forever, unless of course he was a homophobe in which case he will be still celebrating at having gotten away with having rolled a faggot with no legal consequences.

    When no-one loves you, and you have no hope, no future, why would you not kill yourself?

    If we are really serious about effectuating change, the only path is through education authorities stopping being so frightened to say the word “gay”, running serious anti-homphobia programmes in schools with real live witnesses, such as the parents of kids who died by their own hand, and sane gay people who can articulate and win people over. This must be coupled with rigorous prosecution of offenders, and professionally based counselling. This is how racism is being slowly tackled.

    Bullying is not a crime, but it should be.

    • Hello,

      I am Brandons mother. I have been going through the web sites reading things and I just want to say I do agree with a lot of the things you say here. But that being said I want to point out I sat down with Brandon and told him straight out that I didn’t care if he was gay or liked girls or if he went both ways. I would love him no matter what and the people that loved him would feel the same. I told him to be who he wanted to be. I bought his eyeliner, I payed for his hair to be dyed, I bought everything for him. If I was afraid he would be gay I sure wouldn’t have done that. I supported him in everything he did and I didn’t care what people thought. He was so special, until you met him you would have no clue. I don’t know if Brandon was gay but I can tell you I don’t care either way. I loved him no matter what! The bullying needs to end and we will fight his fight.

      • Dear Tammy

        Thank you very much for responding, and I am very heartened by your comments. Many parents would be glad to see the last of their son if he suicided because he was gay. Large numbers of homosexual children end up in refuges after being thrown out of home. It is good that you told Brandon he had your love irrespective of his inborn sexual orientation, whatever that may have been.

        It is also encouraging, although clearly now far too late, that so many people have expressed their horror at the shocking way Brandon’s school peers treated him, and their genuine sorrow for his death, and this has gone all the way to the White House.

        You will see from my website that I am a musician, and so it doubly perturbs me that being a musician such as Brandon was, as well as putatively gay is still regarded as a disqualification for membership of the human race by school age bullies.

        I agree the bullying has to stop, and it can, but only if parents like you who have suffered the loss of your beloved child get angry, get even and get active.

        All my best wishes to you.

        Derek Williams

  7. He was really cute. I would’ve dated him. I’m sad he did that. I know it was two years ago but I just heard about it. When I saw the pictures if him, my heart broke and I started cryin. I wish I had known him. :/ R.I.P. <|3

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