CHEYENNE — Alexander Frye was usually quiet and shy around other 13-year-olds. He was slow to make friends at school, his family said, and he was often teased and bullied by classmates.
With adults, Alex was a different person: He was talkative, made friendships easily and impressed even longtime Union Pacific veterans with his encyclopedic knowledge of trains.
About 200 of those adults packed the American Legion Post 6 hall on Wednesday for a police debriefing on Alex, who shot himself in a field south of the Union Pacific railyards early Sunday morning, according to the Laramie County coroner.
The discovery of Alex’s body on Tuesday brought a tragic, abrupt end to three days of searching by hundreds of volunteers.
Alex’s family said a memorial service is scheduled for Saturday afternoon at Schrader Funeral Home in Cheyenne. An exact time has not been set.
Family members said they saw no warning signs that Alex was thinking of suicide, though his stepsister said that she believed his suicide was a direct result of being repeatedly bullied at school.
‘An old-school gentleman’
Family, friends and neighbors remembered Alex Frye as smart, caring and perhaps the most mature 13-year-old they had ever known.
“He was an old-school gentleman, but in a kid’s body,” said Lindsey Power, Frye’s next-door neighbor. “If anyone was outside doing yard work or something, he was always the first one to ask if they needed help.”
He was naturally drawn to groups of people much older than himself, family members recalled, and often accompanied his father, Bill, to American Legion meetings and Air Force events.
“He was the kind of person that got along better with adults than children of his own age because he had that mentality and wisdom for a 13-year-old that no one can match,” said his stepsister, Lauren Bard.
Frye especially held his own when it came to his passion: trains. Like many young train enthusiasts, he had a model railroad. But he also often watched full-size trains in Union Pacific’s Cheyenne railyard. And soon, his father said, he started chatting up railroad workers about their jobs, impressing them with a commanding knowledge of engines and railroad operations equal to their own.
John Frye, Alex’s grandfather, said that during one visit a couple of years ago to his home in Sparta, Wis., Alex noticed a train crew idling an engine on some tracks and struck up a conversation with the brakeman.
“The next thing you know, they let him physically drive the locomotive,” John Frye said. “They had never met this kid. That was the impression that he put on people to trust this 11-year-old kid after talking to him for 15-20 minutes.”
Troubles at school
But when it came to attending school each morning, Alex Frye was anything but enthusiastic.
As a quiet kid standing only 5 feet tall, Alex was often bullied at Carey Middle School, Bill Frye said.
On Wednesday, school officials said they were shocked and saddened by the news of Alex’s death, but said they had no record of any bullying problems related to him.
He’d sometimes refuse to do his homework, Bill Frye said, with slumping grades as a result.
Some days, Bill Frye said, he’d keep Alex home from school because his son would refuse to leave the house.
“He was just too upset to go into school, for whatever reason — the kids were picking on him yesterday, or things like that,” Bill Frye said. “He didn’t want to go back to that.”
A few months ago, Alex ran away from school, Bard said. He was found a couple hours later in the UP train yard, she said, watching locomotives.
Despite these instances, family members said they never knew the extent to which Alex was bullied at school.
And Bill Frye said that when he asked his son about his difficulties at school, Alex would often become extremely defensive and refuse to talk about it.
“I’ll pick him up or whatever and he’s had a bad day — so and so was doing something,” Bill Frye said. “And I’d go back the next day, and he’d say, ‘Oh, we’re all good friends now. Everything’s cool.’
“And I don’t know if that was true or not,” Bill Frye said, “or if he was just telling that to me.”
Last Saturday, Bill and Alex returned home from a trip to Wisconsin to visit his grandparents. School loomed in two days.
About 6 p.m., Bill Frye left for an American Legion New Year’s Eve event. Alex remained behind, saying he wanted to stay home to tend to his dog that had been injured in a fight with another dog earlier in the day.
When Bill returned home shortly after midnight, Alex was gone.
For the next three days, a massive search was conducted, combing the railyard and other places Alex was likely to have gone. By Tuesday morning, nearly 250 people were helping in the search, according to family friend Bryan Grzegortyk, who coordinated the effort.
About 10:30 Tuesday morning, a UP worker found Alex’s body in a field near the west side of the railyard. He died of a single bullet wound to his head, according to Laramie County Coroner Marty Luna.
Luna said based on the temperature of Alex’s body when it was found, he likely died in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day, shortly after he left home.
Bill Frye and other family members said Alex gave absolutely no warning, no sign that he was considering taking his own life.
“I really wasn’t expecting anything like this,” Bill Frye said.
Bullying to blame?
It’s rare for someone so young to take his own life, said Keith Hotle, suicide prevention team leader for the Wyoming Department of Health. Of the 873 suicides recorded in Wyoming between 1999 and 2007, he said, only seven were committed by people 13 or younger.
Asked why Alex would want to kill himself, Lauren Bard didn’t hesitate.
“One-hundred percent in my mind, no doubt, this was sparked by bullying,” she said. “He got along great with his dad. He got along great with our mom. He had so much going on in his life that wouldn’t have turned him to do something.”
Bard said Alex’s death should be a red flag to school districts that they shouldn’t overlook bullying of any sort, no matter how innocuous it may seem.
“My brother is gone, and we can’t take it back, but we can try and prevent it from happening to someone else’s kid.”
Alex’s father, though, wasn’t sure what led his son to shoot himself.
“I don’t have a clue,” Bill Frye said.
On Tuesday, Laramie County School District 1 Superintendent Mark Stock said he had no particular knowledge about Alex Frye being bullied.
“But I do know that when a student chooses to end their own life in a tragic manner like that, I can tell you that oftentimes there’s a lot of issues going on in that kid’s life,” Stock said. “And school’s likely to be one of them, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Alex had other issues that he was struggling with that maybe no one knew. I don’t know.”
Stock said that his district has worked hard in recent months on steps to combat bullying.
By the end of the current school year, Stock said, most educators in the district will have taken an anti-bullying training course. Starting next fall, he said, they’ll start extending that training to students — particularly the “innocent bystanders” who see other students get bullied.
“The key there is to train those students who are not victims or bullies, but those who see it — and what’s their response to it, and what do they do about it,” Stock said.
Bullying is far from uncommon in Wyoming classrooms. A statewide survey released last month by federal and state officials found that more than half of Wyoming middle school students have been bullied on school grounds. More than one-fourth said they’ve been the bully, according to the Youth Behavior Risk Survey.
Alex Frye’s remains will be cremated, family members said, and they plan to spread some of his ashes over the Union Pacific railyard that captivated him.
Some friends and family are organizing a fundraiser for a possible memorial to Alex.
“That boy will not be forgotten in the town of Cheyenne,” said John Frye, as the American Legion hall emptied out Wednesday. “No way. Not when this many adults are friends of his.”