When Jadin Bell hanged himself at age fifteen earlier this year, his dad, Joe Bell, did more than mourn. He launched Joe's Walk for Change, a cross-country trek intended to raise awareness about bullying -- behavior with which Jadin, who was gay, had been victimized.
Joe didn't reach his destination: He was killed in an accident on a rural Colorado highway that's resulted in a charge against a truck driver. Now, his loved ones say, he's continuing his walk with Jadin. Photos and the extraordinarily moving details below.
Here's the simple description of Joe's goal as seen on the Joe's Walk for Change Facebook page:
Joseph Bell is walking across America to educate anyone who will listen about the lasting effects of bullying.
This journey is in remembrance of Joe and Lola's 15 year old son. Jadin, who took his own life in early 2013, due to relentless bullying, at school and on social media. He was bullied for his sexuality.
We'll never know if bullying was the specific cause of Jadin's death, since he reportedly left no suicide note. But there's no question that such actions happen every day from coast to coast to incredibly negative and hurtful effect -- and they transcend kids emotionally brutalized about their sexuality, as Joe understood. Here's a graphic from the Facebook page making this point:
These actions took place in a wide variety of settings when it came to Jadin, as Joe noted in the mission statement of the official Joe's Walk for Change website:
Joe set off on foot across the United States after losing his son, Jadin, to suicide. Jadin was bullied relentlessly for being gay, both in school and online. After this terrible loss Joe figured he had two choices, lay down and give up or stand up and walk. Follow Joe on his journey across the United States as he changes the way people communicate, ends the stigma of suicide and fights for equal rights for everyone.
The walk began in April, with Joe making steady progress month by month, sometimes in the presence of folks walking alongside him. Here's the video diary of one such person:
Progress was tracked on the Facebook page, with an October 9 post reading: "Joe will be speaking to a youth group in Hugo, Colorado tonight. He is excited to be sharing his story and education on bullying to the youth in this area."
That same day, the following photo popped up, alongside the caption, "Making headway, one step at a time."
Unfortunately, Joe never got the chance to make this appearance. At about 5:10 p.m. on the 9th, according to the Colorado State Patrol, "a semi-tractor collided with a pedestrian on US 40 at milepost 126, or 20 miles northwest of the town of Kit Carson. The pedestrian was walking eastbound on the shoulder.... He was pronounced deceased at the scene." The driver of the semi has been identified as 49-year-old Texas resident Kenneth Raven. He was not injured in the crash that took Joe's life -- and he received a careless-driving citation afterward. The release about the tragedy notes: "The State Patrol believes that driving while asleep contributed to the crash." The news was broken to website visitors with the following message and photo: Meanwhile, the following post appeared on the Facebook page:
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I am very sad to have to announce that our friend Joe Bell was hit and struck by a semi while on his walk last night. Thank you so much for all of your continued support, he loved everyone he came into contact with, and was so appreciative of all of your support. I will update with info as it becomes available. He will continue his journey now with Jadin. Please keep his family in your prayers and thoughts.
Our sincere condolences to the friends, family and loved ones of Joe and Jadin -- and may their story resonate with the bullied and the bullies Joe was trying to reach now that his earthly walk has ended.
More from our Colorado Crimes archive: "Photos: Tilo Sandoval, suspect in brutal gay-hate attack on Jared Olson, surrenders to cops."