Walking For Joe Bell


You probably remember this story from last month. The grieving father of a bullied fifteen-year-old who hung himself on an elementary school playground, quit his job and began walking across the country in his own bullying awareness campaign, when he was hit by a truck and killed instantly.

Neither the suicide of Jadin, nor the death of his father Joe, are stories I would normally choose to write about, especially on a Sunday morning. Such events really need someone more appreciative of Greek tragedies. A Sophocles or a Euripides. I can’t find a moral to their story much less a silver lining. Two lives wasted, and nothing changed.

Except something did.

Jadin Bell killed himself because he was bullied for being gay. He couldn’t hang on for the “It gets better” promise to kick in. He had friends. He had his family on his side. And it still wasn’t enough.

In this tribute video, Jadin looks like the kid at the McDonalds counter, or the neighbor’s son who helped push your car out of the snow. The pain doesn’t show. But that’s all I can think about when I look at him catching snowflakes on his tongue: You must have been in such horrible pain Jadin Bell. And I have nothing uplifting, or insightful or the least bit clever to say about that.

While I may be able to choose whether or not to dwell on the loss of Jadin Bell, his father had no such luxury. When I heard of his planned two year trek across the country to bring attention to bullying, I have to admit, my reaction was not “Now there’s a good idea” or “That ought to work.” My thoughts about Joe Bell were very similar to my thoughts about Jadin Bell: “You must be in such horrible pain.”

joe bell2I used to scoff at the idea that everyone went through the same stages of grief. Everyone grieves differently, right? So how can it also be the same for everyone? Yet it’s hard to deny that people in grief will at some point feel compelled to do something to make their loved one’s death make sense. They often use terms like “so they did not die in vain” or “so some good can come of this” or “so no other family has to go through this.”

John Walsh felt compelled to search for predators. Sarah Brady worked a decade to pass the Brady Bill. Susan G. Kohmen’s sister started a breast cancer charity. Rich families fund scholarships. Poor families plant trees. And Joe Bell quit his job and began walking from his home in Oregon across the country. He decided on a southern route, because that’s where homophobia is the most ingrained. Joe walked for six months. He made it to Colorado, and then the truck ended his pain, and opened a fresh wound in the hearts of his family.

A tragic end to a tragic story. Except that it’s not.

The community in Colorado where Joe was killed did the unexpected last week. They “Walked for Joe.” Led by the Lincoln County sheriff, a group of law enforcement officers started at the place where Joe was struck and walked the twenty miles to Kit Carson, which would have been Joe’s next stop. The walk took them six hours. This is the video they made at the beginning of that journey:

Communities across the country have taken Colorado’s lead and are signing up to help finish the walk Joe started. “Community Walks For Joe” is aiming at amassing a million “Likes” on Facebook, a million miles walked in honor of Joe, and a million dollars raised for anti-bullying groups. And while I suppose even this community support does not qualify as a happy ending, it is now our turn to channel our grief so that Jadin and Joe “did not die in vain” and “so some good can come of this” and “so no other family will have to go through this”.


Photos from Facebook


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