Utah family honors son who died by suicide with Valentine’s tradition, warns about dangers of social media

Feb 14, 2024, 6:42 PM | Updated: 10:40 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Wednesday was a big day for the Obray family. They delivered roses to multiple high schools on Valentine’s Day, in honor of their son who died. The family from Monroe, Utah, lost their son, Dexton, who died by suicide when he was only 14.

The family including his mom, Britney, and his dad, Karl, honors him on Feb. 14 by delivering flowers, the way he once did.

“One year he said, ‘Mom, Dad, I don’t want any girls to not have a valentine,’ and he wanted to give something to them,’ Karl Obray said. “So we said, ‘How about flowers?’ So we got him flowers and he just beamed and was so proud and he handed those flowers out.”

Dexton Obray as seen on the fundraiser header to send Valentine’s Day roses to young women at local high schools in his honor. (The Obray Family, GoFundMe)

Dexton’s parents said that act of kindness came full circle the Valentine’s Day after Dexton died.

“Right after we lost Dexton, all the girls from his class came to our house on Valentine’s Day and they all gave us roses and said some sort of thing that Dexton did for them,” Karl Obray said. “And it just touched us and from that point, that’s when we decided that we were going to do flowers every year for all the girls in his school.”

The tradition began and the family created a GoFundMe and a Facebook for their cause. This year, the Obrays raised enough money to get roses for the girls at six high schools.

“We were able to get donations and it helped us reach 2,000 girls and that totaled to be six schools. It was all kind of central and southern Utah,” Britney Obray said. “We went to Kanab [High School], my family was able to help us down there ….and then we did Beaver [High School], Richfield High School, South Sevier High School, South Sevier Middle School, and then North Sevier High School.”

The Obrays spent all morning delivering the roses to different schools.

“All day today we’ve been getting messages about how it’s just touched their daughters and just made their day and I can see Dexter’s smile just beaming, knowing that his legacy’s continuing and we just felt him with us all day,” Britney Obray said.

They’re hoping to spread what they call ‘Dexton’s light.’ The Obrays said Dexton was a big kid with a big heart. They had no idea some of the inner struggles he was facing. Since his death, the Obray family learned that Dexton suffered largely due to the effects of negative social media.

“We didn’t know Dexton was struggling with depression because they use Snapchat and it deletes the conversations. When we did a phone check, we didn’t know. You know, we looked at his texts, they didn’t say anything,” Karl Obray said.

It wasn’t until later they found things he’d viewed or saved on different social media platforms like YouTube and TikTok.

“Dexton was looking up depressing things like he was addicted almost to that,” Karl Obray said. “Social media knew that addicted him and that was what he wanted and they fed him more and more and more.”

That’s why after all of the flower deliveries, Karl and Britney Obray went to the Utah Capitol to speak to legislators about SB 194, a bill that regulates social media use for minors.

“Without social media, we are 100% sure that Dexton would still be here,” Britney Obray said. “There was no other reason for him to take his life, other than what he was being fed on social media.”

“He was loved, he was never bullied, he was the most popular kid in the school almost, he had the life. He got everything he wanted, and social media robbed it from him,” Karl Obray said.

Karl and Britney Obray speak to Utah legislators about a social media bill.

The bill focuses on multiple areas of privacy and supervision for teens. It requires default privacy settings for minors, age verification for minors, it prevents social media companies from using their data and allows a supervisor account for minors that can oversee everything.

The Obrays said they may have been able to intervene for their son if the information had gotten to them.

“But it never got to an adult. It never got where it needed to go. And so the regulations is a big one, just parents being able to log in, control what they see,” Karl Obray said.

While they did their best to monitor his phone and set boundaries for social media use,  they wish they had known more.

“I used to go down to Verizon stores and we had set regulations for Dexton so that he only had an hour a day of social media. You can do all those things,” Karl Obray said. “You can lock it down so you can’t get on the internet and all that. But these social media apps, there’s a one-size-fits-all. It’s an adult account and that’s it. The things that TikTok was feeding Dexton was pure poison and we’ll talk about that at the legislation today. It was pure poison and it was basically telling him to take his life.”

The Obrays were grateful for the “step forward” legislators were taking to hold social media companies accountable.

“I know that they are trying to make a difference and they are thinking about our youth where social media is not,” Britney Obray said.

Britney and Karl are working to start a foundation in honor of Dexton that provides a place for youth to spend their time “being kids” instead of on social media.

“So these social media giants, they know what they’re doing to our kids,” Britney Obray said. “They’re addicting them. They’re grooming them, whatever you want to say. Kids are just not allowed to be kids anymore, and that’s where a lot of the mental health issues are coming in. It’s just the pressures of what everyone’s looking like on social media, what your life should look like.”

The other part of that foundation would be for adults, providing them support and education on the difficult things kids are facing specifically with social media and mental health.

“We just feel like if we can help support them and let them know that, you know, stories like ours shouldn’t happen and hopefully we can save a couple lives and inform parents so that they know what to look for,” Britney Obray said.

“Unfortunately, we weren’t educated on all this until we lost Dexton,” Karl Obray said. “We had to learn it the hard way. We just don’t want other people have their parents to feel the pain that we feel every day. And that’s what we’re doing. We’re just trying to spread a story and try to bring that attention so another parent’s not shocked in the morning when they wake up.”

The Obray family is sharing their story in hopes of helping other families prevent similar tragedies. They want to spread “Dexton’s light” and encourage others to do the same. Their efforts are shared on a Facebook page called Dexton’s Story.

If you want to donate, the link to the fundraiser – which is a GoFundMe*, is linked here. They said any donations will be used for next year’s flower fund, they’re hoping to make it their biggest year yet.

*KSL TV does not assure that the money deposited to the account will be applied for the benefit of the persons named as beneficiaries. If you are considering a deposit to the account, you should consult your own advisors and otherwise proceed at your own risk.

Suicide prevention resources

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or exhibiting warning signs, call, text, or chat the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 which is answered 24/7/365 by crisis counselors at the Huntsman Mental Health Institute. All calls to legacy crisis hotlines, including the old National Suicide Prevention hotline, 1-800-273-8255, will also connect to a crisis care worker at the Huntsman Mental Health Institute as well.

Additional resources

  • SafeUT: Parents, students, and educators can connect with a licensed crisis counselor through chat by downloading the SafeUT app or by calling 833-3SAFEUT (833-372-3388)
  • SafeUT Frontline: First responders, including firefighters, law enforcement, EMS, and healthcare professionals can chat with a licensed crisis counselor at no cost 24/7/365 by downloading the SafeUT Frontline app.
  • SafeUTNG: Members of the National Guard can chat with a licensed crisis counselor at no cost 24/7/365 by downloading the SafeUTNG app.
  • Utah Warm Line: For non-crisis situations, when you need a listening ear as you heal and recover from a personal struggle, call 1-833 SPEAKUT 8:00 a.m.-11:00 p.m., 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
  • The Huntsman Mental Health Institute offers a wide variety of programs and services including suicide prevention and crisis services, hospital treatment, therapy & medication management, substance Use & addiction recovery, child & teen programs, and maternal mental health services including birth trauma, pregnancy loss, infertility, and perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.
  • LiveOnUtah.org is a statewide effort to prevent suicide by promoting education, providing resources, and changing Utah’s culture around suicide and mental health. They offer resources for faith based groups, LGBTQ+, youth, employers, firearm suicide prevention, and crisis and treatment options.

Counties in Utah provide services for mental health and substance use disorders. Centers are run by the thirteen Local Mental Health and Substance Use Authorities all across the state and offer therapy, substance use disorder treatment, support groups, mobile services, youth treatment, and more.

These resources and more information can be found here: https://www.uacnet.org/behavioralhealth.

Other community-based resources

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Utah family honors son who died by suicide with Valentine’s tradition, warns about dangers of social media