CODY — Kyle Wells was thrown into garbage cans.

Some fellow students at Cody High School laughed at him because of his sexuality.

He was belittled because he was too short. But his friends recall his heart of gold.

“He talked me out of suicide,” one friend said.

Kyle was 16 years old, 5-feet tall and gay.

On Oct. 30, he took his own life.

“He was a lover, not a fighter,” said a group of his peers during a community discussion about bullying in Park County School District 6 last month. The students, along with Wells’ family, concerned parents and community members, gathered at Cody’s Irma Hotel on Dec. 11 to discuss why he took his life.

The students, many with cuts on their wrists, spoke about the daily aggression Wells faced at school.

He would go from being bisexual to gay to straight to wanting a sex change.

“One thing this town does is hold on to your past,” said Shane Duran, a friend of Kyle’s and sophomore at Cody High School.

The Cody Police Department is still investigating the suicide and declined to comment. The police have Kyle’s journal and suicide note. The investigation is nearly three months old.

Tough start

Kyle had fetal alcohol syndrome. The physical effects weren’t visible. Sharon remembers Kyle struggling with math when he was young. She spent hours with him, repeatedly showing him how to count money into basic change. He also had Russell-Silver syndrome, a birth disorder that limits growth.

At the age of 3 he was adopted by Wells. Her son dated Kyle’s biological mother. Sharon said that after Kyle’s half-brother died while in the care of the mother, the Wyoming Department of Family Services took Kyle away from his mom.

“I went to a lawyer and said, ‘I want that baby,’” Sharon said. Even though Kyle wasn’t her son’s child, Sharon adopted Kyle in 1997, and they’d lived together since. Kyle called her “Grandma.”

Kyle never knew his real father. His mother is in jail, according to Sharon.

Today Sharon wears a black, rubber bracelet with the word REMEMBER printed in large white letters.

“We made them for Kyle,” she said.

Around her neck is a golden replica of Kyle’s tiny thumbprint from birth.

“He was only 3.5 pounds when he was born,” she said.

Life at school

The bullying followed Kyle from grade to grade, according to his friends and family.

Sharon said she went to the district’s middle school at least nine times to report that Kyle was being bullied.

“There’s nothing in the file,” she said.

Park County School District No.6 has no record of Kyle being bullied, said Brandon Jensen, Kyle’s high school principal.

The superintendent, school board and high school principal told the Star-Tribune at a Dec. 18 board meeting that they are assessing school and state policy.

Students believe nothing has changed since Kyle’s death.

Students won’t usually report a bullying problem to administrators, which makes it difficult to address, Jensen said. Many students abide by the “no-snitching” mentality.

Throughout the police investigation, Jensen said, it’s been difficult to find concrete, substantiated information.

At Kyle’s funeral, Sharon was overwhelmed by students who told stories about how Kyle defended classmates in the crosshairs of verbal or physical violence in and out of school.

“He would stand up for everybody but himself,” said Garrytt Melson, a junior at the school. “And he never had time to realize how strong he was inside.”

A few weeks before he died, Kyle confided in Sharon.

“He said, ‘Grandma, I can’t deal with it anymore. Everyone is telling me their problems and I can’t even deal with my own,’” Sharon said.

The school district didn’t send Sharon flowers or offer condolences.

“Our kids are old enough and sophisticated enough to know what bullying is and what it’s not and what’s tolerated and what’s not,” district Superintendent Bryan Monteith said.

How he coped

During the years, Kyle dealt with his problems in a multitude of ways. When he was 13 and 14 he participated in the Navy Seals Cadet program. It teaches the fundamentals of sea-going military services and community service. Kyle received encomiums for his achievements with the cadets, including a letter signed by President Barack Obama. He traveled to California for training on Navy sea vessels. It seemed like a pathway to a promising future. Then he had an argument with the program’s leader.

He quit.

He dabbled in marijuana and alcohol. Two weeks before his death he took a drug test. The results were clean.

He had some run-ins with the law: breaking curfew, playing with air-soft guns and making nonviolent mischief.

The police were watching him. Kyle was on probation.

“Where were they when he needed them?” Sharon said.

Depression

In June 2011 Kyle entered the Wyoming Behavioral Institute after a failed suicide attempt. He was cutting himself and suffering from depression. He left in September 2011. But he continued to cut. He was sent to the Cottonwood Treatment Center in Utah. He left in March 2012 and returned to Park County School District 6 to finish his freshman year last April.

Before Kyle returned to class, Wells spoke with Mike Ludie, Kyle’s special education teacher and case manager at the school. She asked that he and other school officials pay special attention to Kyle.

Kyle’s grades were better than ever before after returning from Cottonwood. He was excelling in history and math. But the harassment continued, Sharon said. He finished his freshman year and returned in the fall.

“He was in the prime of his life,” Sharon said.

On the day he took his life, Kyle’s friends claim he was bullied. He came home from school. Sharon left to buy some Halloween candy. He went into his room and didn’t come out alive.

The school district won’t comment on the details of Kyle’s last day.

“There are privileged pieces of information that I can’t talk about,” Monteith said.

Sharon kept her handgun locked in a safe. She hid the key in her purse. Kyle had stolen the key.

Rochelle Wood, Kyle’s neighbor and friend, heard the gunshot and saw the body bag.

“He did what he did to make a point,” she said. “The bullying has to stop.”

(13) comments

Jackson
Jackson

Given that the quotes by the superintendent are accurate, one is not left wondering how much of a caring environment is promoted in Cody's schools. What a combination of arrogance and ignorance, and he is probably well paid, as well.
Somewhat of a reminder of a high school counsellor in Buffalo last year.
Bullying is not limited to fellow students. It starts at the top sometimes, too.

tomwest
tomwest

Agreed. One has to wonder if the school officials, teachers, administrators, etc., agreed with the bullies in regards to his sexual orientation. Perhaps their religious beliefs prejudiced them to believe that Kyle deserved to be punished. Too many so-called Christians need to look into their hearts and question whether they are following Christ truly. The Justice Department should step in and prosecute those responsible for hate crimes.

Patrick Doan
Patrick Doan

no here in Cody, they just ignore all of us

UncleD
UncleD

It starts at the top ALWAYS. We have a problem in Wyoming Schools because the system refuses to address bullying. They have the lip service down, but to stop bullying, the teachers, staff and older students need to stop it every time they see it. Right now everyone puts their hands in the air and says they can't do anything.

Red Pony
Red Pony

Why is is it that every time a child is bullied into suicide, the public behaves as if it is a new problem. I was bullied all through school, and now at 55, I still feel some of the taunts as if they are fresh. This boy, Kyle, had a rough start. Because he saw the world differently, he was ostracized by his peers, and most likely, by their parents as well. Bullying usually starts in the homes of the bullies. School administrators have a great deal on their plates, but need to be aware that bullying is also a type of terrorism.It may not involve "guns", but words are one of the most potent of weapons man has at his disposal, and at any age, one of the most deadly, causing the anguish that leads to "self murder".If Kyle had not been the gentle soul he seemed to be, perhaps this could have been another mass killing as he rid himself of his tormenters? Acceptance of all our differences, regardless of what they are, needs to be taught, not only in our schools, but places of worship, where it seems to me, have forgotten the basic teachings of tolerance Jesus preached.

TBA
TBA

Cody is smack full of bigots,mostly wannabes who slithered in from some other state where they could not make it.I used to live there years ago but due to lack of any jobs that paid a living wage,I wised up and left. Wyoming has a lot of these bigots who think their #### doesn't stink. Most Wyoming rednecks will not accept any kind of change and will die thinking their #### doesn't stink,some in Wyarno and Newcastle come to mind.

Patrick Doan
Patrick Doan

Looking back on these stories makes me so mad, I knew Kyle, he was one of the best kids I've ever known... The problem is that people here didn't take the time and get the privilege to know him, instead they judged him by his sexual orientation and what others said about him. Kyle was bullied, and I (along with my friends) have to face the fact that we couldn't stop it. I'm so sorry you were pushed into this Wellsi... I'll always miss you R.I.P. little buddy

jgkastner
jgkastner

I've followed the story of Kyle...it hit home for me. This has been going on for decades in Cody. This is not a new problem. Neither is how Cody reacts. Why does Cody have so much suicide? I haven't even been to that many funerals in the years since, except family. But there is always this one group. It's there every year. I still hear about it. The "Cody Elite." Either sports stars or from one of the "families" of town. They do what they want and no one stands up to them. These are your kids Cody. Be proud? My 20 year reunion is this year at CHS. I won't be going. I was popular with the majority of students - student council and the like. I was bullied because people thought I was gay (I wasn't "out" but they were determined to make their point). I ate the wall many times; I would get chased and taunted. I couldn't take certain hallways or go to the bathroom between classes. I heard every name you could imagine, and then some I didn't even know, hurled at me. Every. Single. Day. No joke. Every day. How much can one person be expected to take? I would hear "suck it up" "be a man." My folks went to the administration. Nothing changed. How about these bullies learn to "be a man." If being a bully is what it means to be a man, count me out. The people of this town have got to learn that their actions, whether direct or indirect contribute to this problem. Yet, again, as has been for decades, a blind eye gets turned. Many of us have recently emailed the district, school administration and former teachers whose names we remembered, begging them to finally take notice. No responses. None of us got a single response. We were too afraid as students. As adults, we won't back down. Huge gratitude to the Tribune for publishing this story.

LittleRedRidinghood
LittleRedRidinghood

I've been here most of my life and was never fortunate enough to have been one of the kids from an influential family. We were poor and different and from the moment I stepped into the Cody school system, it was made abundantly clear that I did not belong. Some of things that made me more of a target than my hair or my hand me down clothes were that I didn't know I wasn't supposed to be friends with the black kid (you know he wasn't called that) or the Korean kid who was scarred from a horrible fire. I didn't know I wasn't supposed to stick up for others and behave in kindness. There wasn't a single day of my schooling in Cody that didn't include some sort of hateful remark. I was chased down hallways with threats of rape, comments on sexuality that made me literally run screaming for them to leave me alone, hands full of my hair torn from my head, and face after face turning away like none of it was happening. I understand that kids can be cruel from time to time, but what I didn't understand was that through all 12 years of schooling, I cannot tell you how many teachers and other faculty witnessed extremely targeted harassment of me and a few other "lucky" kids. Absolutely from the top on down. Parents, family members, friends, you have to make this stop. Very often the victim is powerless and terrified, being socially crucified on a daily basis and it is your silence that makes the victim truly feel more worthless than the bullying itself. Every time you see it, stand up to it. Every single time. Please. I barely survived. So many haven't. Sharon Wells and her family shouldn't have to be screaming into the dark for answers. We shouldn't have to keep doing this over and over. Expect better of yourselves. Expect better of Cody. We owe it to Kyle and to all the others who gave up because it hurt too much. Kids shouldn't have to cowboy up under torment. Kids shouldn't be tormented, period. Please, stand up for them.

Sage Brush
Sage Brush

I now have kids in school and one of them has had some experience with bullying as well. As it was with Kyle, it started earlly on and has carried through his shcool years. His father has been relenteless about making sure everyone at the schools--and I mean everyone--knows our concerns. It has helped and has progressively gotten better. I think it's because he is a man. I know how that sounds but I think that when we mothers go to adminstrators (often male) our concerns are dismissed or not taken as seriously because we are often automatically viewed as emotional or over protective.

There's a lot of emotion and ill feelings written in the above comments in regard to the culture of the Cody schools. The comment from the administrator that the kids are old enough and sophisticated enough to understand bullying and what the expectations are appears naive and arrogant, frankly. He sounds like a person who is out of touch with what he perceives as the culture and what it actually is.

Heather Steward
Heather Steward

I knew kyle he was a good, well really good friend of mine i loved that kid. The day before this happened i was walking down the hall with him and stephen making stupid jokes for some reason we thought they were so funny. Kyle busted out dancing like he always does and soon after i joined him... When i got called down to the office my Guidence Cousler told me what happend. I stood there frozen for a minute. She almost started crying also i started to not be able to breath. And finally a gasp of air came out and i broke down right there. Not one day, not one single day goes by when i dont think about him and all the good times we had together.

Daniel Hanson
Daniel Hanson

its really pathetic that people are blaming bullying for what had happened. I was Kyle's good friend. He could care less about a bully. he was strong, but he thought that nobody loved him. his marijuana use only made it worse. he hit a low in his life and he thought he couldn't handle it. it's f'ed up that after a kids death people find an opportunity to blame something. its not helping other kids with these stored up emotions talking about his sex or any other pointless statements you've shared. Teachers need to talk to their students more. in the meantime, for those who had actually known him, remember the good times of him. stop blaming. use your head.

northerngal
northerngal

Has the Naval Seal Cadet program leaders been investigated here? Seems like they were involved here?. They can push a person to the brink. I feel so so sad for Kyle that he had to put up with such abuse. Bless his spirit.

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