All Research

Joe Bell (2021)


Mark Wahlberg
Born: June 5, 1971
Dorchester, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Joe Bell
Born: December 6, 1964
Birthplace: California, USA
Death: October 9, 2013, Colorado, USA

Reid Miller
Born: November 27, 1999
Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA

Jadin Bell
Born: June 4, 1997
Birthplace: La Grande, Oregon, USA
Death: February 3, 2013, Portland, Oregon, USA (suicide by hanging)

Connie Britton
Born: March 6, 1967
Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Lola Lathrop
Born: October 29, 1957
Birthplace: Los Angeles, California, USA
Photo: Facebook

Maxwell Jenkins
Born: May 3, 2005
Chicago, Illinois, USA

Joseph Bell Jr.
Birthplace: La Grande, Oregon, USA
Bio: Jadin's Younger Brother
Photo: Facebook

Gary Sinise
Born: March 17, 1955
Blue Island, Illinois, USA

Sheriff Tom Nestor
Born: October 7, 1970
Birthplace: Hugo, Colorado, USA

Historical Accuracy (Q&A):

Was Jadin Bell a cheerleader?

Yes. Jadin was a member of the cheerleading team at La Grande High School in La Grande, Oregon. Like the movie, the true story confirms that his classmates and others made fun of him at the games even when his father, Joe Bell, was in the stands. "They ripped him apart," said his father. "Even when I was in the stands, they made fun of him, called him hateful names. There he was, at the football games, cheering his heart out. But he just got abuse."

It's true that the real Jadin Bell had been on the cheerleading team at La Grande High School.

Why did Jadin Bell get kicked off the cheerleading team?

A teacher found Jadin smoking a cigarette and turned him in to the administration. As part of his punishment, he was suspended from the cheerleading team. Jadin Bell's father, Joe Bell, suspected that the school saw Jadin as an embarrassment and used the incident as an excuse to remove him from the team. "I have no doubt," Joe Bell told, "if he hadn't been kicked off the cheerleading squad, all of this could have been avoided. They hit him where it hurt, you know. He was devastated." His father was referring to Jadin Bell's suicide not long after being kicked off the team.

Did Jadin Bell's grades and behavior begin to falter after he was kicked off the cheerleading team?

Yes. After being kicked off the cheerleading squad, Jadin's grades began to go downhill. He was also cited by the police for alcohol possession and he stole pain medication from his father.

The real Jadin Bell and actor Reid Miller in the movie.

How many siblings did Jadin have in real life?

A fact-check reveals that the real Jadin Bell had four siblings, a younger brother, Joseph Jr.; an older brother, Dustin; an older sister, Amber Lynn; and a stepsister, Ronda Eaton.

Did Jadin Bell visit a church that instructed anyone in the congregation who was gay to come up and repent for their sins?

According to Jadin's father, Joe Bell, this happened in real life a few months before Jadin's death when he went to church one Sunday with a friend. The pastor told the congregation that if anyone present is gay, they need to go to the altar and repent for their sins. "Does that seem Christian to you?" commented Joe Bell. He was himself a Christian. After his son Jadin Bell's death, he brought several Bibles with him on his walk across the country.

Were Jadin Bell's mother and father married in real life?

In the movie, Jadin Bell (Reid Miller) has a married mother and father, Lola Bell (Connie Britton) and Joe Bell (Mark Wahlberg). However, The New York Times referred to Lola Lathrop as Joe Bell's partner, not his wife. Looking at each of their Facebook pages seems to confirm this. Joe and Lola state in their bios that they are "in a relationship" with each other, not that they are married. However, it does appear that they are both Jadin's birth parents.

Left: Jadin Bell with his father, Joe. Right: Actors Reid Miller and Mark Wahlberg. Photo: Bell Family Photo / RoadsideFlix

Did bullies put a snake in Jadin Bell's locker?

While the real Jadin Bell was reportedly tormented intensely by bullies at school and online, we found no evidence that the movie scene where he finds a snake in his locker is based on real life.

Did the school try to protect Jadin Bell from the bullies?

No. The Joe Bell true story reveals that while the school district did have anti-bullying policies, it appears it failed to enforce them in time to help. Jadin and his father had alerted the school's administration of the torment Jadin was enduring, and similar to the Joe Bell movie, they arranged an appointment for Jadin to see a guidance counselor. They didn't suspend any of the teens who were harassing Jadin until three weeks after his death when one of the bullies began to target someone else.

The article points out that one of the issues is that a lot of people hear the term "bullying" and think of it as a child-like behavior, when in reality, it's assault. People often don't take it seriously enough until it's too late.

The school district failed to stop the bullies who were tormenting Jadin Bell (left). Actor Reid Miller (right) plays Jadin in the movie.

Did Jadin Bell's father yell at him the night before he took his own life?

Yes. Joe Bell caught his son smoking again and exclaimed, "Jadin—when are you going to learn?" Joe regrets not being calmer, and it was hard not to correlate this with the events of the following day, even though it's not what ultimately caused Jadin Bell's death. Joe Bell had accepted his son's sexuality and supported Jadin's decision to come out to the community. That's more than can be said for the community, which was often far less accepting, especially when it came to Jadin's classmates.

"In a small town, a town the size of La Grande, what Jadin did took enormous courage," Joe Bell commented. "And I'm not just saying that because he was my son. But it destroyed him."

How did Jadin Bell commit suicide?

According to the true story behind Joe Bell, Jadin hung himself with a length of rope from a playground structure at Central Elementary, a local elementary school, on January 19, 2013. He had walked to the school in 20-degree weather. According to, before taking his life, the 15-year-old texted his friend Tara and told her where his suicide note was located. The playground is in clear view from Sunset Dr. and is located directly across the street from Grande Ronde Hospital. It's unclear if Jadin thought it was possible he might be found in time to be saved.

Jadin Bell hung himself from the playground equipment at Central Elementary, pictured above.

Did Jadin Bell die instantly?

No. Approximately nine minutes after Jadin Bell tried to commit suicide by hanging himself, a passerby saw him and lifted him down from the playground structure. The stranger then began to administer CPR and paramedics were able to restore Jadin's heartbeat during the flight to Portland's Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. However, the nine minutes that his brain had been deprived of oxygen proved to be too long. He never regained consciousness. 10 days later on January 29, Jadin Bell's parents, Joe Bell and Lola Lathrop, made the difficult decision to remove him from life support after his body began to suffer seizures. He survived for five more days without food or water, passing away on Sunday, February 3, 2013.

Had Jadin's father, Joe Bell, tried to kill himself when he was a teenager?

When Joe Bell (portrayed by Mark Wahlberg in the movie) was 17 in 1982, he was in a difficult relationship with his father. He made the decision to kill himself and took the .22 caliber pistol from his father's bedroom in the middle of the night. He put the gun to his temple. The hammer was cocked but he didn't pull the trigger. Instead, he put the gun under his pillow and went to sleep. He woke the next day with a strong sense of purpose and joy.

The real Joe Bell (left), and actor Mark Wahlberg (right) in the movie. Photo: Faces For Change / RoadsideFlix

What did Jadin Bell's suicide note say?

While did report that Jadin Bell had texted his friend prior to taking his own life and told her where to find his suicide note, other news outlets have reported that Bell didn't leave a suicide note. If he did in fact leave a suicide note, it hasn't been made public by the family. Still, his Twitter posts shortly before his death revealed the degree to which he was suffering.

"It was a place of torture," wrote Bell. "Always looking behind me. Surrounded by people who hate me, who want me dead."

"My soul is sinking," another post read. "I need help."

On the eve of his suicide, Bell Tweeted, "I just want it to be over. It will be. Soon enough."

"I don't know what I'm going to do if I don't."

"I can't keep talking myself out of it."

What made Joe Bell decide to walk across the country?

After Jadin Bell's death, his father, Joe Bell, spent several months in a deep state of grief, unable to work. Ever since 1982, when Joe Bell was 17, he had been searching for the purpose of his life. For a long time, he concluded that his purpose was to be a father to his three sons. However, after Jadin's death, he realized that his purpose was to travel across America and tell Jadin's story, speaking to schools, community groups, church groups, Boy Scout troops, and basically anyone who would listen. His goal was to raise awareness of bullying. Prior to embarking, he said that he now knew what he was meant to do with his life.

The real Joe Bell poses with the cart he took on his journey. Photo: Joe's Walk For Change

What did Joe Bell bring with him as he embarked on his walk across America?

Like in the movie, the Joe Bell true story confirms that he pushed a rolling cart and carried a metal-frame hiking backpack. He tried to keep four gallons of water with him at all times, as well as food, books (quite a few were Bibles), clothes, a sleeping bag, and a tent.

How far was Joe Bell planning to walk?

After resigning from his job at the Boise Cascade plywood mill, Joe Bell began his journey on April 20, 2013, setting off from La Grande, Oregon. He had previously gone through two knee replacements and had to get a doctor's clearance before he could begin. Joe planned to walk 3,985 miles from La Grande to New York City, a journey that he figured would take him roughly a year and a half. He chose New York because his son Jadin had gone to the city on an eighth-grade class trip and became enamored with Manhattan. Jadin dreamed of moving there one day and working in fashion or photography (The New York Times). In order to help fund his walk, Joe's friends set up a nonprofit, Faces For Change, where people could make donations. He took along with him a GPS beacon, which updated his coordinates every hour.

The real Joe Bell (left) during his walk in 2013 and Mark Wahlberg (right) reenacts the walk in the movie.

Is Gary Sinise's character based on a real person?

Yes. The sheriff Gary Sinise portrays in the movie is based on the real-life sheriff of Lincoln County, Tom Nestor, who, like in the film, had chatted with Joe Bell on the side of the road the day before Bell's death. They bonded over the fact that they were both fathers of gay sons. Sheriff Nestor set up a talk for Bell on the evening of the accident and had been planning to pick Bell up for the event.

"I only knew him for a very short time but this man had to of made a huge difference in everyone he met," Sheriff Nestor said. "He made me realize how important basic humanity still is." -The New York Times

How far did Joe Bell walk before the accident?

***CONTAINS SPOILERS*** Joe Bell's walk came to an end on Wednesday, October 9, 2013. It was nearly six months after he began his trek to share the story of his son Jadin Bell's suicide after being tormented by bullies at school. While walking along the side of Highway 40, a rural two-lane road in eastern Colorado, Bell was struck by a tractor-trailer. State police said that the driver of the semi-truck had apparently fallen asleep at the wheel. Bell was pronounced dead at the scene.

News of Joe Bell's death came as a shock to those whose lives he had touched on his journey. With the release of the Mark Wahlberg movie, his message will undoubtedly reach more people than he could have imagined. Perhaps that message will encourage more schools to start taking active roles in actually stopping bullying instead of just adopting anti-bullying messaging. However, that's likely wishful thinking. With the advent of the internet and social media, the problem has become significantly worse.