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TAYLORSVILLE — Classmates of a Bennion Junior High School student who took his own life Thursday described him as "playful," "always smiling" but mistreated at times by others.
"He was nice to everyone, even if sometimes people weren't nice to him," said Bennion ninth-grader Brandon Newby.
Granite School District officials say the 14-year-old student shot himself with a handgun on a pedestrian overpass near the school about 3 p.m. in the presence of other students.
The student was transported to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead, Unified Police Lt. Justin Hoyal said. There were several other students nearby at the time of the shooting, Hoyal said.
Thursday night, students returned to the school to pay their respects to their classmate with a candlelight vigil. Many also took turns setting down flowers and stuffed animals near the overpass where the 14-year-old died.
District spokesman Ben Horsley said the boy left school around 1:30 p.m. with his mother. He returned after about an hour and met several other students on the overpass over 6200 South at 2700 West.
The overpass is located on the southwest corner of school property but is separated from the main building by a football field, Horsley said. The shooting took place roughly 15 minutes after school let out.
For anybody, let alone a student, to witness something like this, it's pretty traumatic.
–Lt. Justin Hoyal, UPD
"For anybody, let alone a student, to witness something like this, it's pretty traumatic," Hoyal said.
Grief counselors were made available to students and families dealing with the tragedy, Horsley said.
Students trickled back to the school throughout the evening, walking slowly to the bridge that became a makeshift memorial and gathering for a candlelight vigil.
At times they smiled and played, as if forgetting their pain for a moment, but somber faces and shaky embraces prevailed throughout the night.
Newby and fellow ninth-grader Junior Estrada were visiting with teachers at Bennion after school Thursday. They walked outside and said they were shocked to learn their friend was dead.
"I was talking to him today," Newby said. "We were joking at lunch time, and he seemed happy. I wouldn't have expected it."
Estrada and Newby returned to the school to talk to teachers and attempt to understand the heartbreaking news. As they talked, they began sending text messages, which were soon shared on social media, inviting other students to come to the school Thursday night to remember their classmate.
"I sent out a big text to everyone who goes to Bennion or might have known him, even if you weren't great friends with him, to still come and pay your respects," Newby said.
Police on Thursday night were still investigating how the boy obtained the gun, as well as the motivation behind the incident. But friends believe the teen was bullied.
"I just don't understand why people can bully him and be OK with it," said Arnie Wright. "He was a really sweet kid and didn't hurt anybody. He didn't do anything wrong."
Estrada said he hopes the tragedy helps teenagers understand that bullying has consequences.
"We have to stop all of this," Estrada said. "It's going around too much, and not just here, but around the world. … One thing you say can affect their whole life. It can be in their brain forever."
Meanwhile, family members of the young man spent the evening notifying extended family of the tragedy. Police are expected to release the his name Friday.
Contributing: Benjamin Wood