Hearing set for Monday in Benz case

MARQUETTE — The 13-year-old girl accused of pulling an online prank that may have led Tysen Benz, 11, to take his own life is scheduled to appear Monday in the Marquette County Probate Court.

The Marquette County Prosecutor’s Office issued charges last month against the girl for telecommunication services, malicious use and using a computer to commit a crime.

Prosecuting Attorney Matt Wiese said the girl, who has not been named by authorities, allegedly produced a false report of serious injury or death. According to a police report of the March 14 incident obtained by The Mining Journal through a Freedom of Information Act request, the girl told police she wanted to “play a joke” on Benz, and used a friend’s social media account to tell him she had died. The girl said in an interview with police she eventually admitted to Benz it was a joke, and that he was upset with her for pretending she was hurt or dead.

Benz was found unresponsive shortly after 10 p.m., within hours of the alleged prank, and died on April 4 after three weeks on life support.

While it’s unclear whether the prank and Benz’s suicide attempt were directly related, Wiese said there is a logical connection between the two events. However, he said there is not a factual requirement that the prosecution prove any relation in this case.

“The tragic circumstances that resulted in his death are related, perhaps,” Wiese said. “But the fact that he died is not an element of the allegations.”

Katrina Goss, Benz’s mother, described the night of March 14 as a “whirlwind of hysteria.”

An ordinary day filled with the family’s typical activities – school, tutoring, grocery shopping, relaxing at home – quickly turned chaotic when Goss went to tuck Benz into bed.

Upon gaining access to his locked bedroom, Goss said she expected Benz to “pop out and scare” her.

“I looked in the closet and saw him in there,” said Goss.

According to the police report, officers found two belts looped together, hanging from the clothes rack in Benz’s closet. He reportedly attempted to hang himself.

“I was screaming, my sons were crying and screaming…” Goss recalled. “My oldest sat down and called 911 … and I just kept doing CPR until the EMS got there. They took over doing CPR and were able to re-establish a heartbeat.”

Benz was taken by ambulance to UP Health System-Marquette, and was later airlifted to an Ann Arbor hospital.

Doctors were reportedly unable to perform an MRI to determine the extent of Benz’s brain injuries until about two weeks later due to swelling of his brain, Goss said, adding that she waited at his bedside, hoping for the best.

“When I did find out… it was a sudden turn,” she said. “There was no hope, unfortunately.”

Benz’s story has gained international attention, sparking dialogue around suicide and the role of social media in children’s lives.

Goss has been interviewed by several large media outlets, including the Detroit Free Press, the New York Daily News, CNN and People Magazine.

A pre-recorded interview with Goss is scheduled to appear on Monday’s episode of the talk show “Dr. Phil.”

Goss said while the attention doesn’t lessen the pain of her loss, she’s glad Tysen’s story is being told.

“Adult content is all over the place on the internet,” Goss said. “People have to be vigilant and watch their children and what they’re looking at, who they’re conversing with,” she said. “People really need to step it up and just take charge of the phones and the iPads, and just make sure to monitor them. It’s not an invasion of privacy. It’s your child. They’re a minor. You’re allowed to take it away, you’re allowed to put settings on it.”

While Goss’ message has resonated with parents across the country, many have been quick to criticize the girl’s alleged role in Benz’s death.

The girl’s attorney, Sarah Henderson of Cassellman & Henderson PC in Marquette, said people have passed judgment without first knowing the facts of the case.

“What happened to Tysen Benz is a tragedy, and nothing we can say or do changes that heartbreaking reality,” said Henderson in a statement provided to The Mining Journal, made on behalf of the girl’s family. “However, many of the public reports about this case have ignored or overlooked important facts and failed to accurately reflect what occurred. The public interest that has developed around this case has caused many people with no knowledge of the facts to make statements about this case online and in social media in ways that demonize our client, who is herself a young person. She did not lose her life, but her life is forever changed. Those of us who stand against cyberbullying should be careful not to engage in the same conduct we denounce.”

The girl admitted to police in an interview that she had played a joke on Benz, according to the incident report, but alleges she eventually told Benz she was the one using the account, and that it was a hoax.

She told police that Benz then became upset, stopped talking to her for some time and then messaged he was going to “end it right now.”

The girl said she believed Benz was talking about their relationship, and told him to “just do it.”

Benz then allegedly sent the girl a picture of a belt, and stopped responding to messages. The girl said although she felt he might do something to harm himself at that time, she did not immediately tell anyone about the conversation.

Another subject – whose name was redacted in the report – told police Benz may have been upset about his relationship with the girl, and said that the two had recently gotten into trouble and were told by their parents to stop dating.

Goss said she did not approve of him dating at such a young age, and that the relationship was “secretive.”

When asked about an incident at school referred to in the police report, Goss said the girl had referred to Benz in a “sexually explicit” note that was confiscated by school officials and brought to Goss’ attention by a Bothwell Middle School employee.

“We told them they needed to stay away from each other,” Goss recalled, adding that she had attempted multiple times to put an end to the relationship.

The girl also told police Benz was upset following the incident, which allegedly occurred in late February. She alleged Benz had told her he wanted to hurt himself as a result. She said she did not tell anyone about what he had reportedly said, and that he seemed normal the next day at school.

“Noose” and “people cutting themselves” were found in the Google search history of Benz’s phone from late February, according to the police report. He had also reportedly Googled “noose after marks” on March 9.

The March 14 messages between Benz and the girl have not been released. Goss said she has not read the conversation, but believes Tysen thought the girl was dead.

“I don’t think he thought it was a joke,” Goss said, adding Tysen would have “never even thought of something like this” and that he was a “super happy boy.”

Goss said she believes the girl is responsible for her son’s death, and thinks there should be more severe charges brought forth.

“They don’t really have a law in place for this type of crime,” she said. “That’s basically why I’m doing all of this – because they don’t have a law. … I really wish there were stronger charges for what she did. Like, when you inadvertently or accidentally kill someone with your vehicle, you get involuntary manslaughter. What if you coerce someone into killing themselves via computer or iPad. How is that not the same thing?”

The hearing is set for 4 p.m. in the county’s probate court. Wiese said the telecommunications charge carries a maximum sentence of six months under Michigan law, and up to one year for the computer charge.

Anyone struggling with suicidal thoughts is urged to call the National Lifeline number at 800-273-TALK or Dial Help, an Upper Peninsula crisis center, at 800-562-7622.

Dial Help has calling, texting or chatting capability available 24 hours, seven days a week.

Kelsie Thompson can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. Her email address is kthompson@miningjournal.net.