CODY, Wyo. — 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, 2012, 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 committed suicide.
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 onto your past," said Shane Duran, a friend of Kyle's and a sophomore at Cody High School.
Jocks and preps rule the school, students say. Kyle was neither.
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.
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 had 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 seagoing 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 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 airsoft guns and making non-violent mischief.
The police were watching him. Kyle was on probation.
“Where were they when he needed them?” Sharon said.
Dealing with 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."