For 17-year-old Kenneth Suttner, life was more than he could bear. Subjected to daily torment by his peers at school and forced to perform humiliating tasks at his after-school job at a local Dairy Queen chain, one day Kenneth had reached his breaking point. On December 21, 2016, Suttner took out a gun and shot himself in the head outside of the home he had shared with his family in Glasgow, Missouri. Within days after Suttner’s suicide, the Howard County coroner called for an inquest into what had driven the young man to take his own life.
The nearly six-hour proceeding took place on January 31, 2017. During this hearing, 20 people were called to testify before a six-person panel of jurors tasked to determine whether or not Suttner’s suicide had been provoked. Witnesses – which included law enforcement, teachers, co-workers, and friends of Suttner’s – say that in the months and years leading up to the teen’s suicide he had been taunted and teased for everything from his weight to the way he talked.
Representatives of the Glasgow Schools, including a superintendent, denied having any records of Suttner being bullied throughout his time in the district. It was later presented that there had been a record of Suttner’s torment by other students and at least one teacher after the issue had been brought up by Suttner’s parents at a school board meeting. The superintendent denied having any knowledge of this particular meeting.
Allison Bennet, a former co-worker of Suttner’s, said that she had witnessed Suttner being bullied while at work as well. She testified that on several occasions she had seen Suttner become so upset by the ridicule he faced while on the job that he had to step outside to cry. Most of this ridicule faced by Suttner had been at the hands of his former assistant manager, 21-year-old Harley Branham.
Former co-workers of Suttner’s recalled Branham had often asked Suttner to perform degrading tasks at work, such as lying on his stomach and scrubbing the kitchen floor by hand, as well other tasks that she had never asked anyone else employed at the location to undertake. In addition to assigning Suttner with extreme tasks, it was also claimed that on at least one occasion a former co-worker had witnessed Branham throw a hamburger at Suttner.
According to the Columbia Daily Tribune, Branham stated that she had never bullied the teen. “’There’s a lot of people at Dairy Queen saying I was the reason’ he killed himself, Branham said, ‘but I don’t understand why it would be that way.’”
After hearing testimony from all 20 witnesses, including some of Suttner’s accused bullies, the jury determined that Suttner’s suicide had been the result of the constant bullying and harassment faced at both school and work. The jury also ruled that Harley Branham, Suttner’s former supervisor, should be held on charges related to involuntary manslaughter. She was arrested shortly after the hearing. If convicted the 21-year-old former Dairy Queen manager could be facing up to seven years in prison.