KIT CARSON, Colo. – Joe Bell had a message for gay teens suffering from bullying who might be contemplating suicide: “It’ll get better.”
He was spreading that message during a walk across the country – from Oregon to New York City.
Joe was walking in honor of his son Jadin. The 15-year-old boy was gay and suffered from bullying. He hanged himself on a La Grande school playground in January. A passerby saw Jadin and tried to help, but the boy later died at a Portland hospital.
Joe Bell was walking along a rural highway in Colorado on Wednesday evening when he was struck by a semi-truck and killed.
A Colorado State Patrol spokesman said investigators think the truck driver fell asleep at the wheel when he hit Joe as he walked on the shoulder.
Joe began his walk in April. His son had died just a few months earlier.
“He was hurting so bad,” Bell told KATU just before embarking. “Just the bullying at school. Yeah there were other issues, but ultimately it was all due to the bullying, for not being accepted for being gay.”
After Jadin’s death, Joe, Jadin's mother Heather Martin and Jadin’s uncle Bud Hill founded the group “Faces for Change.” They hoped to use the group to reduce bullying, promote tolerance and educate people about bullying’s root causes.
Joe was using his “Walk for Change” to spread the group’s message.
“For me personally, I’ll speak from my heart, and I think that people will understand that,” Joe said in April. “My goal is to get my son’s word out there; his name, his experience – just to get our story out there.”
Joe hoped to end up in New York City, where Jadin said he wanted to live after graduating high school in La Grande. He made it as far as Hwy 40 in rural Colorado, near the town of Kit Carson.
A state trooper who patrolled that area described it as a desolate stretch of road that doesn’t see a lot of traffic.
Ann Clark served as the vice president of Walk for Change.
"I have a son that was bullied at the same age as his son so it's something that's been close to my heart. So I wanted to do whatever I could to help him out," Clark said.
She said she feared something like this could happen, but she was still shocked to hear the news.
"I've been up and down all day long. I just can't quit crying. I'm stunned," Clark said.
"He would say that if he could save one life the whole entire walk would be worth it," she added. "He got a lot of emails from a lot of youth and he was getting ready to speak to a youth group that night."
On Thursday morning a friend of Joe’s put up an announcement about his death on a Facebook page chronicling the walk.
“Thank you so much for all your continued support,” it read. “He loved everyone he came into contact with and was so appreciative of all of your support.”