The manager of a Missouri Dairy Queen is accused of bullying a teenage employee to the point where he committed suicide. That was the conclusion reached by an inquest into the December death of Kenneth Suttner, 17. The Columbia Daily Tribune reports that after 20 testimonies, a jury of coroners recommended that charges be brought against Harley Branham, 21. Suttner’s co-workers testified that Braham subjected the teenager to abuse including throwing a cheeseburger at him and forcing him to clean floors with his bare hands.
The inquest had been set up to discover what the underlying cause of death was for Kenneth Suttner. At the conclusion, prosecutor April Wilson said that the victim’s family “really feel that was Kenny’s voice today, and they feel like it’s justice for Kenny.”
If you or anybody you know is depressed or considering suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on 1-800-273-8255.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Branham Said, ‘There’s a Lot of People at Dairy Queen Saying I was the Reason He Killed Himself’
During the inquest, employees at the Dairy Queen in Fayette, Missouri, testified that Branham would have Suttner perform tasks that others didn’t want to do, reports the Columbia Daily Tribune. While the suspect countered that the ridicule was good natured. Branham said, “There’s a lot of people at Dairy Queen saying I was the reason he killed himself but I don’t understand why it would be that way.”
The Columbia Missourian reports that during proceedings, Branham admitted to calling Suttner an “a**hole.” While the website adds that a colleague, Alison Bennett, said that Suttner would sometimes run outside to cry due to the abuse he was suffering.
The jury also took aim at Dairy Queen saying that the fast food giant has failed in their training of employees. Suttner’s school district was accused of failing the deceased teenager.
2. Branham Wrote ‘Can’t Believe You’re Gone’ on Facebook After Suttner’s Suicide
On her Facebook page, Branham posted a photo of Suttner on December 21 accompanied with the words “Can’t believe you’re gone.” The pair were friends on Facebook. Rochelle Markham, the general manager at Dairy Queen, tagged Branham in a tribute post dedicated to Suttner. That message reads in part, “God knows we’d have all been there for you and helped you through had we known the pain you were in.”
The Columbia Missourian reports that Branham has since been fired from the Dairy Queen for “unrelated reasons.”
Branham writes in her about section, “I am who I am today not who I was yesterday and not who I will be tomorrow.” Her page is updated regularly with Branham espousing liberal political views.
Branham was married in 2016 to a man named Michael Branham. Her maiden name is Harley Jensen. The couple was married on Valentine’s Day, according to their The Knot page. She is from Dixon, Missouri, located about 100 miles south of Fayette. Branham studied music education at Central Methodist University. There, she was part of the school’s marching band.
3. One of Suttner’s Friends Said the Victim Was Relentlessly Bullied in High School
The mother of one of Suttner’s friends, Mary Korte, told the inquest that, “Kenny spent his life trying to tolerate negative words and actions,” reports the Daily Tribune. While his school friend, Lexie Graves, said, “A lot of people, kids, made fun of the way — basically everything about him.”
Suttner was also bullied at Glasgow High Sschool. School Superindentent Mike Reynolds was accused of calling the inquest into Suttner’s death a “crock of s***” during proceedings, reports the Columbia Missourian. Later, when speaking to KOMU, Reynolds stated that he didn’t believe there was problem in his school district with bullying.
According to Suttner’s obituary, he was active in his local FFA group and took trips with the group to national conventions. It adds, “He worked at Dairy Queen in Fayette. He was an avid reader, he enjoyed hunting and drawing, and he had a special love for all animals.” Suttner is survived by his parens, Michael and Angela, as well as three brothers, Ryan, Jackson and Logan. His funeral was held on December 23. Donations were suggested to the Kenny Suttner Memorial Fund c/o Tri. County Trust Co., P.O. Box 217, Glasgow, MO 65254.
4. Branham Could Face 7 Years in Prison
Branham was arrested shortly after the inquest concluded. According to Missouri law, Branham could be facing a fine of $5,500 and seven years in prison. Howard County Coroner Frank Flaspohler said at the conclusion of the inquest, “If we don’t take care of bullying, we’re going to have a lot more of these,” reports the Columbus Daily Tribune.
The special prosecutor in the case, April Wilson, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “We wanted to be very cautious and responsible. Both sides of the issue are extremely important. A young man is dead. But we also want to acknowledge that it’s not easy being in public education.”
5. Suicide Was the Second Leading Cause of Death for Americans Aged Between 15 & 19 in 2014
The Centers for Disease Control says that suicide is the second leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 15 to 19. There were 1,834 in 2014. Half of those suicides involved guns. In April 2016, the Mayo Clinic published a lengthy article that dealt with information that parents should know about teen suicide.