The father of an 11-year-old girl who died by suicide in December 2017 believes his daughter and her closest friend, who took her own life three months later, may have been bullied over their sexuality.
Madissen Foxx Paulsen used her father’s handgun to take her own life in the small North Dakota town where she lived with her father, PinkNews reported.
Their parents now believe that they may have been openly questioning their sexuality, and could have been subject to homophobic bullying in conservative Devil’s Lake, ND.
Madissen’s dad Shane says she and Sophia had a particularly close relationship, recalling that she one day introduced Sophia to him as her girlfriend.
“I know they shared their affection for each other, and maybe they shared it with their classmates, and a lot of that may have pushed them into this,” he said.
“The way I kind of look at it is that, at 11 years old, I think they’re just trying to figure out who they are.
“I’m a really supportive man. My uncle has been married to the same man for like 30 years.”
He said that Madissen had alternately expressed that she likes boys, and girls, and both girls and boys.
Sophia’s mother, Angela Leaf, told The Daily Mail that Sophia had said to her, “I think I like girls.”
Leaf, who says her sister is bisexual, had reassured Sophia that she would be loved no matter how she identified, and was happy for her daughter to question her sexuality.
Sophia was found in her home on the Spirit Lake Reservation in St Michael. Doctors attempted to save her, but she died on February 20, 2018.
Paulsen, a truck driver, had bought the handgun due to a rise in shootings at truck stops. Madissen’s mother had died as the result of heroin use, meaning he was away a lot for work and may have missed the warning signs while Madissen was being cared for by his mother.
He has since destroyed the weapon, saying he’ll never own another gun.
At the time, Leaf worked as an emergency services dispatcher with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and was working the night a call for an ambulance came through.
The page said an 11-year-old was found not breathing.
The parents say they are speaking out to try to understand the tragedy, and to raise awareness of the problem facing young people, especially those who may be working through their sexuality.
Last year saw nine-year-old Jamel Myles take his own life in Colorado following homophobic bullying, and earlier in 2018 12-year-old Matthew Leach, who identified as bisexual, was found dead by his parents in their home in Mississippi having taken his own life.
A 2017 study found that while the passage of marriage equality in the US had lowered suicide rates, they still were as high as 28.5 per cent among LGBTI young people.
If you or someone close to you is struggling and needs someone to speak to, you can contact one of these services:
Headspace: 1800 650 890
Beyond Blue 1300 224 636
Switchboard: 1800 184 527
Lifeline: 13 11 14