For six months, Joe Bell had been walking, determined to make it across the country to memorialize his 15-year-old son, who was openly gay and killed himself in January after being bullied at school. But last Wednesday, his journey ended in a second tragedy for the family: Bell was hit and killed by a tractor-trailer on a rural Colorado road after the driver apparently fell asleep, the New York Times reports. Bell, 48, planned to walk from his home in Oregon to New York City, because son Jadin wanted to live there one day, and he had been sharing his son's story as he walked in an attempt to raise awareness of bullying.
Bell spoke anywhere he could, from schools to gay-outreach centers to motorcycle rallies, and thousands of people were following his trek on a Joe's Walk for Change Facebook page. (You can read their tributes and see photos of Bell and Jadin here.) He planned to be on the road at least two years, carrying his things on his back and in a pushcart, and getting help from strangers who became friends along the way. He was set to speak at a Hugo, Colo., church the day he died, an engagement set up by a sheriff he met who also has a gay son. "This man had to [have] made a huge difference in everyone he met," the sheriff says. "He made me realize how important basic humanity still is." A memorial service is being held in Oregon tomorrow, the Oregonian reports.