Details of bullying death come to light with release of transcript

Kenneth Suttner

The transcript of the Howard County Coroner's Inquest into the suicide death of 17-year-old Kenneth Suttner reads like an ongoing narrative of what witnesses described as the mental torture of a sensitive young man ending in the inevitable taking of his own life.

Witnesses recounted episodes of bullying and harassment in every aspect of Suttner's life: Personal, school, and perhaps most devastatingly, work. The transcript of the January, 2017 inquest reveals that many of those closest to Suttner at school, including teachers and administrators, were unaware that he was having any problem with bullying or harassment.

But other stories come closer to explaining the depression Suttner reported feeling at least a week before the took his own life. One relates how Suttner, who struggled with weight and speech issues, was talking to a female friend who had come into the Fayette Dairy Queen where he worked. As he was filling napkin dispensers and talking to the girl, the transcript tells how a witness described his boss, Harley Branham, screaming and cursing at him to get back to work. The witness said Branham sometimes bullied Suttner so badly he would go outside and cry.

Witness after witness testified it was Suttner's work environment that was at the heart of his despair. One witness said Suttner told her he had tried suicide before but could not go through with it.

The witnesses, including friends, relatives, teachers and school staff all told of a vibrant, easygoing boy who would mask his own problems to help others feel better. Then, Suttner began telling friends he didn't think he could take it anymore.

So, just before Christmas in 2016, Kenneth Suttner began writing notes to friends and relatives and left them on his bed to be found later. The notes to his friends asked them to respect his decision to take his own life, according to the transcript. He told them he loved them. He sent text messages. And then, the transcript describes Suttner going to one of his favorite places out in the country where he ended his life.

His friends, who had mounted a frantic search for him during the period of text messaging, were mere minutes late finding him.

The entire transcript spans 259 pages but many of the contents are not suitable for our audience.

A judge ruled this week the transcript should be released.

Editor's note: This story has been edited to correct the victim's age at time of death and to correct the year of the inquest.

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