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Soul-searching in conservative town over gay teen's suicide

CASHMERE, Wash. — On a cold, snowy Sunday evening at the end of an uneventful January day, 14-year-old Rafael Morelos told his mother he was going outside to play with their dog, Kiko.

He never came back.

Less than an hour later, his older brother found him hanging from an irrigation bridge a couple hundred feet from the small cabin here where the family had been living.

Rafael was openly gay. And his death has raised uncomfortable questions in this small Central Washington farming town — with family members blaming one another, a distraught mother searching for understanding and his friends and others wondering whether school officials did enough to stop the anti-gay harassment they say he endured.

His death came more than a year after a series of highly publicized suicides of gay teens focused national attention on issues of bullying, moved Congress to introduce legislation to make schools safer and inspired the creation of the video campaign "It Gets Better," in which celebrities and others offer young gay people encouragement and support.

Exactly how big a role bullying may have played in Rafael's decision to take his life remains unclear, but his suicide has sparked a number of actions in this traditionally conservative part of the state.

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