Ontario — A La Grande man who was walking across the country in memory of his gay son who took his own life, was killed Wednesday after being struck by a truck along a two-lane highway in a rural area in Colorado.
Joe Bell, 48, started his walk in April to honor the memory of his teenage son and spread awareness of the harmful effects of bullying.
Investigators believe that the driver, 49-year-old Kenneth Raven, Bryan, Texas, fell asleep and has been charged with careless driving resulting in death, a misdemeanor, according to The Associated Press.
Shortly after his journey began, Bell spent a few days in Ontario and spoke with the Argus Observer for an article that was published in May.
Bell was the father of four children. On Feb. 3, his 15-year-old son Jadin Bell died 15 days after a suicide attempt following nearly a year of bullying after admitting he was gay his freshman year of high school, Bell told The Argus Observer in May.
“The wear and tear of bullying eventually got to him,” he said.
Bell partnered with Faces for Change, a non-profit organization managed by many of Bell’s friends, including Faces for Change President Bud Hill – who was friends with Bell for 17 years, Hill said.
“Joe approached us and said he was going to walk across the country to spread awareness on bullying,” Hill said. Faces for Change then sponsored his walk and chronicled his experiences on their Facebook page.
Bell began his journey on April 20 and Ontario was his first lengthy stay, about four days, to rest a blistered foot. During his brief time in Ontario, Bell shared his message with many and was well-received.
A local cab driver offered to drive Bell around anywhere he needed to go, an employee at the Sleep Inn paid for one of Bell’s night’s stay, a family who heard Bell’s story offered him dinner and other displays of generosity arose from Bell simply sharing his son’s tragic story.
Bell moved on from Ontario and into Idaho where he spoke at his first schools and continued to spread the story of his son in an attempt to change minds and deter bullying.
“If I can help stop just one child from killing themselves or change one bully into someone who opposes bullying, that’d be great,” Bell said. “For myself, I want to find peace for what happened to my son. Peace is what I need.”
Hill said that the reaction of many upon hearing the news of Bell’s death was one of pure disbelief but that Faces for Change is dedicated to continuing its mission and will honor both Bell’s memory and that of his son.
“We have to keep the education flowing,” Hill said. “We have to change things.”
Many who got to know Bell as he trekked across the nation said that not only was Bell’s story and message powerful, the man himself was immediately admired.
Mike Rosak, of Scranton, Pa., had never met Bell in person, but said he had Skyped with him a few times and had spoken with him on the phone often.
“I loved Joe Bell from the first short phone call I received from him on Feb. 11, 2013,” Rosak said. “It couldn’t have been more than two minutes long as we both began to weep shortly after we said ‘hello.’ I now cherish, more than I ever thought I could or would, every word Joe Bell ever said to me as there will be no more.”
Bell’s final destination was to be New York, which was where his son, Jadin, had hoped to one day attend college, Bell said.
Hill said that Bell’s body is being flown to Boise today, and a vigil will be held in LaGrande Saturday.
Bell leaves behind his partner of 18 years, Lola Lothrop, mother of their son Joseph Bell, 14, and of Jadin Bell, and two children from a previous marriage, Dustin Joseph and Amber Lynn.