SEATTLE — Not long after Joe Bell’s teenage son killed himself, the 48-year-old with two fake knees set out to walk from Oregon to New York City so he could spread the word about the child he loved, about the evils of bullying, about parents’ responsibility.
Bell figured it would take two years to complete his planned 5,000-mile trek, his memorial to son Jadin, his speaking tour about loving gay children and holding bullies to higher standards.
“If he could save one child’s life,” family friend Bud Hill said Monday in a telephone interview, “it would be worth it to him.”
Bell may not have saved a life on his walk across America. But he certainly changed one last week, just before he was struck and killed on a lonely Colorado highway — 18 months and thousands of miles short of his destination.
The life Bell changed belongs to Lincoln County Sheriff Tom Nestor.
“I only knew him for a very short time,” Nestor said in an email he sent to the Oregonian and later to the Los Angeles Times, “but this man had to of made a huge difference in everyone he met. He made me realize how important basic humanity still is. I will pass his story on to many people.”
Bell’s son Jadin came out about his sexuality when he was a sassy, sunny freshman wearing Elton John glasses. But halfway through his sophomore year at La Grande High School, after what his family described as regular bullying, Jadin hanged himself from the playground equipment at his former elementary school.
A few days later, on Feb. 3, his family took the boy off life support at a Portland hospital. He was 15.
Two months after Jadin’s death, Bell quit his job at a plywood mill and hit the road on what his Facebook page called Joe’s Walk for Change. He started out with a pancake breakfast in La Grande and went on his way, pushing his belongings in a cart: Boise, Salt Lake City, Boulder, Denver, talking to whomever would listen.