A Louisiana teenager, who was at the center of the racially charged Jena Six case, is back in the media glare this week. On the evening of December 29, Mychal Bell shot himself in the chest at his grandmother’s house with a .22-caliber firearm. He remains hospitalized.

While Bell’s grandmother told his attorney that he shot himself accidentally while cleaning a gun, CNN reports that police described the shooting as a suicide attempt. Bell, who was arrested on Christmas Eve for shoplifting from a department store, told investigators he shot himself “because he was tired of all the media attention,” according to CNN, who cited the police report.

“No one knows for sure except Mychal,” Carol Powell-Lexing, Bell’s attorney, told ESSENCE.com. She says she is bewildered by the idea that he would try to commit suicide. “He had been satisfied, and happy that the community embraced him. His other attorney and I always said he was handling everything better than we were. But I guess he wasn’t. I just don’t know.”

Powell-Lexing describes Bell, 18, as a well-adjusted high school senior who planned to attend college and continue playing football. “We talked all the time about how anything he does from now on is going to be in the media eye,” said Powell-Lexing. “He said, I know that; I’ll be straight.'”
Powell-Lexing said she was also shocked by the recent shoplifting charges against Bell, pointing out that she had just gone shopping with him a few days before the arrest. “I think before we cast judgment on him, we have to get
all the facts,” she said.

In December 2006, Bell was one of six Black teenagers imprisoned on charges of attempted second-degree murder and conspiracy, for allegedly assaulting a White student at school. The incident came after months of racial tension in their small town of Jena, Louisiana. The charges were later reduced to aggravated second-degree battery, but national civil rights groups saw the
punishment as excessive. In September 2007, an estimated 15,000 people descended on the small town to rally in support of the young men, who came to be known as The Jena Six. Bell eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor battery charge in a juvenile court. He received an 18-month sentence, with credit for the 10 months he had already served in jail.

Although Bell’s injuries are being reported as not life-threatening, his attorney says the family is deeply concerned about his state. According to Powell-Lexing, after undergoing surgery in a Monroe, Louisiana, hospital on
Monday night, his condition worsened on Tuesday, at which point he was transferred to a hospital in Shreveport.

“Either way it goes, whether it was an accident during a gun cleaning or not, he will need some assistance,” said Powell-Lexing. “We want to get as much help for him as possible.”