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The heartbreaking true story of the gay teen and his dad behind ‘Joe Bell’

In April 2013, Joe Bell left his home in La Grande, a small town in the northeast corner of  Oregon, to walk across the country in honor of his 15-year-old son, Jadin, who had died in February a few weeks after attempting suicide.

Bell and his wife, Lola Lathrop, told local and national news outlets at the time that Jadin was bullied for being gay, both online and at school. After his son’s death in a hospital in Portland, Oregon, Bell and family friends started Faces for Change, an anti-bullying organization. He planned to walk across the country to New York City — where Jadin had talked about living — and speak to students, school administrators and  others about the effects of bullying.

Six months into his planned two-year journey by foot, however, Bell was struck and killed by a tractor-trailer on U.S. 40, a two-lane highway in eastern Colorado.

The family’s tragic story inspired “Joe Bell,” a movie debuting Friday starring Mark Wahlberg as Bell, Connie Britton as Lathrop and Reid Miller as Jadin.

The true story behind the film is complicated, and “Joe Bell” attempts to portray the real-life nuances. Miller, 21, said that while Bell accepted his son, he didn’t really understand him, and he struggled to support him. 

Bell told the outlet Salon  after Jadin’s death that he felt somewhat responsible for not doing more to support his son and noted that he had yelled at Jadin for smoking the night before he tried to kill himself. 

The grieving father’s walk, and one of the major themes of the movie, is about redemption, Miller said. 

“I think Joe learned a lot about himself, and I feel like his legacy is that anyone can change … and that through love and through understanding, everyone can be given a second chance,” he said. The film “is about redemption and about coming back from a place that is not an easy place to be in, but it’s a place that you can still come out of nonetheless with love and the right people around you.”

‘A very special human being’

Jadin stood out in his small town of about 13,000. He was the only out gay student at La Grande High School. He told his father that he wanted to move to New York City one day to study fashion or photography, according to The New York Times.

Jadin’s older brother, Dustin, told NBC News that he was “a very special human being.”

“I feel like no matter where he was or what room he walked into, he just lit it up,” Dustin said. “He was just very outgoing and just very much himself.”

Dustin, 32, says one  memory he has of Jadin is from February 2008, the day before the older sibling shipped out to the military. The Bell family had a Super Bowl party to watch the New York Giants play the New England Patriots, who were heavily favored to win. 

“My brother used to love teasing me,” Dustin said. “He’s very antagonistic, and because he was the younger child, he always got his way.”

During the fourth quarter, Jadin was playing with the remote, “and I kept telling him to ‘set down the remote, set down the remote,’ and he never did,” he recalled. 

Then, Jadin dropped the remote. The TV turned off, and the batteries fell out of the remote. By the time they turned it back on, Dustin said, they missed the last minute and a half of the game, during which the Giants came back and won in what is considered one of the greatest upsets in sports history. 

Jadin looked shocked and quickly ran away, he added. 

Then, in February 2013, on the day Jadin died, Dustin said his favorite team, the San Francisco 49ers, were playing in the Super Bowl. During that game, the lights in New Orleans’ Mercedes-Benz Superdome went out a few minutes after the Baltimore Ravens took the lead. 

“That’s one of my favorite stories,” Dustin said. “I was like, ‘it’s just my brother messing with me again.’”

Both Dustin and Miller said Jadin was never shy about being himself. In addition to being the only out gay student at his school, he was also the only boy on the cheerleading squad, and Bell told Salon in 2013 that he was bullied for it.

Miller said he could relate to Jadin and his story, because he was also bullied growing up in Texas. He was an artist “living in a place where it was either sports — football — or nothing,” and  he was smaller than most people his age. 

“It really resonated with me because, as someone who grew up in a small town who felt very misunderstood and … unheard by friends and people outside of my family, [it] felt very isolating and very alienating,” he said.

Reid Miller in a scene from “Joe Bell.”Quantrell D. Colbert / Roadside Attractions

In order to prepare for the role, Miller said he listened to Jadin’s iPod and spoke to his family and friends. He met Jadin’s mother while he was wearing her son’s clothing.

“Even though he was in this amount of pain and he felt so alone, he was so strong in what he believed in and who he was, and that had such an impact on everyone around him and to everyone that I’ve talked to,” Miller said. 

Dustin said he thought Miller did an incredible job capturing the essence of his brother in “Joe Bell.” He said the grieving process for his family is “continual,” and he hopes that the movie reaches an audience that might not usually think about these issues. 

“I just hope that it influences people to be more open minded and not judgmental and more accepting of people from different walks of life,” he said. 

Lathrop released a statement to the La Grande School District ahead of the film, writing that “not everything on the screen occurred in real life.”

“But that misses the important message,” she said in the statement. “I hope that the message this movie sends will make us all more vigilant, and inclined to safeguard the well-being of young people who deserve the opportunity to thrive.”

‘I know that you’re with me on this walk’

Bell told Salon in 2013 that he and Jadin went to the school about the bullying, but he said that the school didn’t suspend one of the main bullies until three weeks after Jadin’s death, and only after the student started bullying someone else.

The La Grande School District has not responded to a request for comment regarding that incident, but in response to the movie’s upcoming release, the district issued an in-depth statement about the resources it offers to students who are in crisis and LGBTQ students seeking support, such as counseling. 

“Our district’s commitment is to ensure we have a positive and inclusive school experience in which all students can thrive academically within an affirming school community,” part of the district’s statement read. “Furthermore, it is our responsibility as professionals to provide a safe and caring setting for every student.”

In addition, a La Grande senior started the school’s first club for LGBTQ students in the spring of 2013, just a few months after Jadin’s death. 

Jadin’s death was one of multiple suicides among LGBTQ young people that made national news around that time. On Sept. 19, 2010, Seth Walsh, a gay 13-year-old living in Southern California, died by suicide after being bullied. Three days later, Tyler Clementi, a gay student at Rutgers University-New Brunswick, killed himself after being recorded on a webcam kissing another man. Two more teens, 14-year-old Kenneth Weishuhn and 17-year old Josh Pacheco also died by suicide in similar circumstances.

Bell resigned from his job and began his walk in April 2013. He documented his journey on Facebook, where he wrote in May 2013, “I miss my son Jadin with all my heart and soul … I know that you’re with me on this walk.” 

After Bell died, people took up his cause for him, sharing photos of themselves on Facebook on walks in his honor and to share his message.

Since then, more schools have adopted anti-bullying policies and better support systems for LGBTQ students, with some states codifying the protections in law. At least 21 states have laws that prohibit bullying on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, according to the Movement Advancement Project, a nonprofit LGBTQ think tank. The remaining states prohibit bullying on the basis of sexual orientation only, have district-specific policies or have no law at all.

Bell also wanted schools to provide suicide prevention training for all counselors. As of 2021, about half of the states mandate annual suicide prevention training for school personnel, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Anthony Ramos, head of talent at GLAAD, an LGBTQ advocacy group, said the Bells’ story is an important one for people to see and understand. 

“Given that the film is lead by such a high-profile, big budget movie star and that it is now available to people in theatres, there is a real potential for many to have their eyes opened to the disproportionate amount of bullying and harassment that so many LGBTQ youth endure and to also witness a parent’s road to acceptance for their own child, and deep regret for not doing so sooner,” Ramos said in an emailed statement to NBC News.

Nearly 70 percent of students have reported experiencing verbal harassment at school based on their sexual orientation, and more than half said they experienced this type of harassment based on their gender expression (57 percent) or gender identity (54 percent), according to GLSEN, which advocates for LGBTQ students. Almost half of students also reported experiencing electronic harassment in 2019 via text messages or postings on Facebook, also known as cyberbullying.

Miller said he also hopes all parents teach their children that words are powerful. 

“Whether they’re said or whether they’re typed, words can be devastating, or they can be lifesaving,” he said. “People need to understand that words have weight and are really powerful and can profoundly damage someone beyond repair.”

A 2019 survey from the Trevor Project, an LGBTQ youth suicide prevention nonprofit group, found that youth who have at least one accepting adult in their life were 40 percent less likely to report a suicide attempt in the past year.

LGBTQ youth who are facing battles similar to Jadin’s, Miller said, should know that “there are people who love and fight every day for them.” 

“The fight is always still on and there will always be support, and hopefully one day we get to a place where we don’t have to fight that fight anymore, where everyone can feel free to be whoever, whatever they want,” he said.


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Pop mogul Simon Cowell was a racing flop with ‘awful’ £35,000 horse he owned with Ant and Dec – that didn’t win a penny

SIMON COWELL conquered the music world – but his foray into racing ended in disaster with an ‘awful’ £35,000 horse he owned with Ant and Dec.

The music mogul, 62, has done it all with bands like One Direction, Little Mix and solo acts Olly Murs and James Arthur, to name but a few.

Cowell owned an 'awful' £35,000 horse with Ant and Dec - but the runner didn't win a single penny in six races

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Cowell owned an ‘awful’ £35,000 horse with Ant and Dec – but the runner didn’t win a single penny in six racesCredit: PA:Press Association
Cowell remains a massive racing fan and loves Royal Ascot and the Epsom Derby

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Cowell remains a massive racing fan and loves Royal Ascot and the Epsom Derby

His Syco label – plus shows such as Britain’s Got Talent – have dominated the entertainment industry and brought him an estimated net worth of £385m.

A lover of Royal Ascot and the Epsom Derby, he looked perfectly poised to strike a knockout blow in the world of thoroughbreds.

But it turns out his runner was far from No1 in the charts – and never even finished better than fifth during a doomed six-race career.

Things looked promising at the start.

Named It’s A Yes From Me, the runner was trained with the respected James Fanshawe and sent off at 8-1 for his first race in June 2014.

But coming last of five by 13-and-a-half lengths was unfortunately about as good as it got for the gelding.

A month’s rest followed before he was sent off at 40-1 in a six-furlong sprint at Doncaster.

But there he could only manage fifth again, and it was same at Redcar the next month.

‘Dreadfully slow’

By October that year – with further finishes of sixth and tenth – It’s A Yes From Me came second-last in a one-mile race at Kempton.

One analysis of the race warned punters the horse was ‘one to tread carefully’ with.

Well, Cowell and Ant and Dec took that advice to heart as they never raced him again.

The horse was penniless from six races, never finishing high enough to recoup some of that £35,000 investment.

It’s doubtful Cowell, with hundreds of millions in the bank, lost any sleep over that.

But Ant and Dec revealed just how bad things has got with the horse during an interview last year.

Dec said of It’s A Yes From Me: “It was awful, it was a dreadfully slow horse.

“It wasn’t a racehorse it was just a horse, because it didn’t race.

“Every time we got to the BGT studio Simon would say, ‘I keep paying stable fees on this horse, but I’ve never seen it run’.”

Cowell originally wanted to name the nag after himself, but they settled on It’s A Yes From Me when they bought it in 2013.

‘It was awful’

Dec revealed its eventual fate: “I think it got rehomed.”

Of course it’s not all been bad for Cowell at the races.

He was one of the exclusive few at the Epsom Derby in June, having a great time with partner Lauren Silverman and Piers Morgan.

And two weeks later he was at Royal Ascot – where he first discovered his love of racing.

Cowell told SunSport’s Matt Chapman during a chat at Epsom: “I’ve got my son Eric with me today.

“My mum and dad years ago used to take me to Ascot and I was probably about his age – seven or eight.

Cowell with partner Lauren at Epsom earlier this year

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Cowell with partner Lauren at Epsom earlier this yearCredit: Getty
It's A Yes From Me trails behind in last during one of his six races

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It’s A Yes From Me trails behind in last during one of his six races
The music supremo tweeted about his horse's bad start... which never got much better

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The music supremo tweeted about his horse’s bad start… which never got much better

Most read in Horse Racing

“So the fact I can now bring him to the races as well is brilliant. It brings back a lot of good memories.

“Making TV shows is my passion. But racing is actually my second passion.”

He hasn’t made that passion the money-maker his music label is, but don’t rule out Cowell staging his own comeback at the track in the near future.

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Commercial content notice: Taking one of the bookmaker offers featured in this article may result in a payment to The Sun. 18+. T&Cs apply. Begambleaware.org


Remember to gamble responsibly

A responsible gambler is someone who:

  • Establishes time and monetary limits before playing
  • Only gambles with money they can afford to lose
  • Never chases their losses
  • Doesn’t gamble if they’re upset, angry or depressed
  • Gamcare – www.gamcare.org.uk
  • Gamble Aware – www.begambleaware.org

Commercial content notice: Taking one of the bookmaker offers featured in this article may result in a payment to The Sun. 18+. T&Cs apply. Begambleaware.org


Remember to gamble responsibly

A responsible gambler is someone who:

  • Establishes time and monetary limits before playing
  • Only gambles with money they can afford to lose
  • Never chases their losses
  • Doesn’t gamble if they’re upset, angry or depressed
  • Gamcare – www.gamcare.org.uk
  • Gamble Aware – www.begambleaware.org
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Minnesota wildfire doubles in size, creates its own weather

A wildfire in northeastern Minnesota more than doubled in size Tuesday, growing to more than 19,000 acres, after it produced pyrocumulous clouds that generated lightning and even raindrops, fire officials said.

The Greenwood Fire’s growth, most of which happened Monday afternoon, prompted firefighters to leave McDougal Lake, about 80 miles south-southwest of Duluth, officials said. Authorities fear that structures might have been destroyed or damaged.

“We had crews embedded, and as this fire took off, it was quite an effort to communicate with forces on the ground so they could get out,” said federal fire incident spokesman Clark McCreedy.

The pullout was a success, and no injuries were reported. However, downed trees and necessary cleanup mean crews have been unable to assess damage around the lake, McCreedy said.

In addition to the firefighter pullout, 159 dwellings were evacuated Monday, according to an update from the National Wildfire Coordinating Group. Cabins, homes and recreational sites remain under threat, the group said.

Patrick Prochaska, a Minneapolis resident who built a cabin near McDougal Lake in 2012, told NBC affiliate KARE that he watched via security camera as flames mostly bypassed his property Monday, causing minor damage.

“I was feeling very scared,” he said. “At the same time, I could see that it was not doing anything to the house, and it was kind of reassuring.”

The fire in and north of Superior National Forest has mostly performed according to the weather, fire officials said. On Monday, with dry fuel on the ground and temperatures in the high 80s, it was an expanding inferno punctuated by strobes of lightning.

“The winds were drawn into the fire from all directions,” the incident’s fire behavior analyst, Michael Locke, said in a video update Tuesday. “It created what we call pyrocumulous clouds. And really high in the atmosphere … you’d see a thunderstorm, and in fact they went high enough to produce a few sprinkles of rain and even some lightning.”

Temperatures dipped into the mid-70s Tuesday, and the blaze mellowed. “The real story was cloud cover and cooler temperatures,” McCreedy said.

More of the same, and possibly rain, was in the forecast, giving officials hope that they might be able to close the book on an unusually active and dry fire season in Minnesota.

Experts have said climate change has set the stage for extreme weather, including an increase in the frequency and intensity of wildfires in the Northern Hemisphere.

Firefighters — 426 were assigned to the Greenwood event — have been confronted with “prolonged, severe drought,” making parts of Minnesota look like the fire-prone West this summer, McCreedy said.

The Greenwood Fire, which was detected Aug. 15, is believed to have been sparked by lightning.

So far, firefighters have scored no containment, and areas including McDougal Lake, Sand Lake and the Highway 2 corridor have been under mandatory evacuation orders. The federal Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was closed Saturday “due to active and increasing fire activity, extreme drought, limited resources,” the National Forest Service said in a notice.

Officials set a goal of Sept. 1 for full containment.

“We’re probably going to get more of that moderating weather for the rest of the week,” McCreedy said. “That opens the door for fire crews to make progress on the ground.”

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Hiker survives grizzly bear attack at Denali National Park

A tourist from Indiana was attacked and injured by a grizzly bear at Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska on Monday night, park officials said.

The 55-year-old tourist, whose name was not released, was hiking alone in dense fog in the Thoroughfare Pass area when a mother bear and multiple cubs charged him from nearby bushes, the National Park Service said in a statement Tuesday.

He had puncture wounds to a calf, his left ribs and his left shoulder, the agency said.

The victim used bear spray that might have cut the attack short, the park service indicated. He walked 1.5 miles to a visitor’s center where “medical personnel” vacationing at Denali treated him as a park bus driver called 911, it said.

The hiker was taken to a medical center near the park before he was transferred to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, about 120 miles away, park officials said. He was stabilized at the Fairbanks hospital, they said.

“Due to the apparent defensive nature of this attack, there are no plans to locate the bear involved,” the park service said. “Female bears with cubs are naturally defensive of their young, especially when surprised. There is no indication that this bear is unusually dangerous.”

Grizzly bears are federally protected as a threatened species in the lower 48 states. According to the National Wildlife Federation, fewer than 1,500 grizzlies are left in the lower 48, but they thrive, comparatively, in Alaska, where they have a population of about 31,000.

The backcountry area of the attack is closed for one week as a precaution, the park service said.

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