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Bullied gay teen is fifth suicide at Iowa high school in past 5 years

'About a year and a half ago, AJ was outed as gay ... Everyone got a long with my son very well until they found out he was gay'
Monday, July 29, 2013

PLEASANT HILL, Iowa — Alexander (AJ) Betts, a 16-year-old gay teen, took his own life over the weekend, becoming the fifth student from a suburban Des Moines, Iowa, high school to do so in the past five years.

His mother, Sheryl Moore, is hoping her son’s story will put an end to the bullying that she said ended his life.

AJ Betts

“It must have been really horrible, if my son got to the point where he would hurt my husband, my daughters and I to take his own life,” said Moore.

Moore told KCCI-TV that she will never know exactly how horrible the bullying was. She said AJ kept a tough exterior and a smile on his face, despite what she is now learning from his friends as they pay their respects.

“We had no indication that anything was wrong. He is the happiest kid I’ve ever met. Everybody who meets him says that,” said Moore.

“About a year and a half ago, AJ was outed as gay at Southeast Polk High School. Everyone got a long with my son very well until they found out he was gay,” she said.

Moore said AJ was constantly ridiculed not only for being gay, but also because he was half African-American and was born with a cleft lip.

Watch a report from KCCI-TV:

The Des Moines Register reports that AJ’s death renews the sting of tragedy for Southeast Polk. The suicides of four teenage boys within seven months in 2008 spurred town hall meetings and a task force to study a so-called “suicide culture.”

Another 17-year-old student took his own life in December 2009.

Steve Pettit, principal at Southeast Polk High School, said he could not say if AJ had reported being bullied.

A hospital spokeswoman told The Associated Press on Monday morning that AJ was being kept on life support to repair damage to his organs in order for them to be donated.

AJ’s mother said candidates have been selected to receive his liver and kidneys, and doctors planed to take him off life support today.

Editor’s Note: If you or a young person you know is LGBT and thinking about suicide, call The Trevor Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386. For adults over 24, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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117 more reader comments:

  1. this is so messed up wtf

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 1:22pm
  2. sad

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 1:24pm
  3. If you feel like you want to end yourself, please call the Trevor Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386. You do matter and many still love you!!

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 1:26pm
  4. :(

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 1:28pm
  5. It just gets sadder and sadder that these suicides continue. As I read more stories it sometimes shows that even the school districts with the best anti-bullying programs can´t stop these tragedies. I want to just shake all these bullies and ask why? Being different from the mainstream isn´t hurting them. Being nice and accepting doesn´t make them one of them. Where are the leaders and why are they afraid to speak up? I can understand it more coming from middle school, but high school? It´s just so tragic!

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 1:29pm
  6. To all the younger gay kids male and female alike HANG IN THERE!! It gets better after high school MUCH MUCH BETTER!

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 1:31pm
  7. My condolences to Alexander´s family, the kids who bullied him should be held responsible at a high cost. This is completely unacceptable, kids should be learning and making life lessons at school, not beating down on each other for their differences!

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 1:32pm
  8. Rest in Peace, AJ. Im sorry we adults didn´t get the world changed for you in time. But I promise We WILL Keep TRYING!

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 1:32pm
  9. This is an outrage that its still happening. Obviously what the school is doing isn´t enough. Damn it!!!

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 1:36pm
  10. When will it end? Poor kid <3

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 1:36pm
  11. Heartbreaking…….another gone too soon!! Kids and parents if bullies need to be held responsible so others can see this is NOT ok!!!!

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 1:36pm
  12. How many more must commit suicide before anything is done?

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 1:40pm
  13. That places doesn´t sound very pleasant.

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 1:42pm
  14. Responsible parties who help to cause such tragic things should get life in prison; and they should come to my prison. Their first moments there would be so memerable for them.

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 1:43pm
  15. oh………c´mon! put a stop to this inhumane cycle…..! Parents stand up for your kids….family buck the tide…..let your loved one know that they are loved…..no matter who they are…………let´s stop bigotry and homophobic mind-set!

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 1:46pm
  16. This is sad. People need to teach their kids that bullying and judging is not ok. And because some of these people will always exist, talk with the kids to reassure them they are great regardless of what these heartless people say or think!

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 1:48pm
  17. This is why I should never have children, because if this happened to my child, I would personally make sure those bullies knew the pain my child knew.

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 1:56pm
  18. Sad news!

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 1:57pm
  19. This breaks my heart to the core.

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 2:00pm
  20. start charging the bullies with first degree murder

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 2:07pm
  21. This is so preventable and so unnecessary.

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 2:09pm
  22. I live in Iowa and I know that a lot of schools have a GSA club (gay straight alliance) that does a lot of work to promote tolerance and acceptance and to increase the presence of the gay community. I know that club saved a few people at my school. I wonder if this school either has one or will be starting one soon? If not that is a good thing for them to start… Students need to know that they have a safe place to go with their peers and that there are in face peers that support them.

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 2:14pm
  23. Holy shit, 5 in 5 years? It´s terrible when you hear about 1, or hear about one kid dying for your entire time there. I think one senior committed suicide when I was a freshman and that was absolutely heart wrenching for the teachers. And in tenth grade my friend died in a car accident. But that was it from what I remember. This high school ought to be proud that they´re having an average of one kid a year kill themselves because they can´t step up and be decent human beings.

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 2:14pm
  24. terrible

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 2:17pm
  25. RIP

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 2:21pm
  26. Small town, small minds. That´s what is happening to these kids. Shame on those bullies!

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 2:29pm
  27. rip this is sad and wrong the bullies should be held for murder

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 2:33pm
  28. read this 15 minutes ago still crying

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 2:37pm
  29. Truly sad.

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 2:42pm
  30. Yet another one. I continue to believe that the principal of that school should be hauled into court for abetting a murder. I will never ever believe that no adult in that school noticed anything!

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 2:45pm
  31. once again, there should be a dislike button on FB – one more person has lost the chance to live his one and only life – very very sad :(

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 2:47pm
  32. WELL DONE GOP/TP and morons another young life snuffed out BECAUSE you think it is OK to bully gay kids….and to the school board…look in the mirror THATS BLOOD on your hands SLEEP well

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 2:48pm
  33. O how terrible!

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 2:55pm
  34. This should be treated as felony murder

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 2:59pm
  35. very sad

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 3:00pm
  36. . Bullying is everywhere and in all states Lots of it here in Maine also

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 3:01pm
  37. haters did not lose a wink of sleep !

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 3:07pm
  38. Close this fucking school assholes !

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 3:09pm
  39. So Very Very Sad

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 3:16pm
  40. What is going on at that school?

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 3:21pm
  41. This tears at my heart.

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 3:34pm
  42. this is terrible

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 3:36pm
  43. So sad…. and scary as a parent

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 3:54pm
  44. awww this is so sad! I pray for his family and him!

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 4:23pm
  45. That I don´t understand?
    Is gay bullying in the US a thing for these gay teens to commit suicide?!?
    What a waste of life, young lives just to make those bastard bullies win over them?!?

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 4:27pm
  46. Good gravy, when will it end?! I really hope that any kids out there (or even adults, for that matter) realize that YOU aren´t the ones with the problem- it´s THEM. If you´re being f*cked with, it´s because THEY´RE f*cked up. I cannot stress that enough; it is NOT you that has the issue with you, it´s them who have issues with you. People need to start absorbing that this isn´t their shame to deal with; it´s the shame, weakness and insecurities of the bullies.

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 4:34pm
  47. This makes me so sad :(

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 4:35pm
  48. :( So sad.

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 4:37pm
  49. Bullies, they are so insecure they need to hurt other people just to take pressure off themselves.

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 5:16pm
  50. When will it stop?!?!?!

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 5:25pm
  51. This is sickening to my soul!!!

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 5:27pm
  52. Terrible. Serious problems need to be addressed.

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 6:17pm
  53. that´s horrible something has to be done

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 6:19pm
  54. very sad! where is the hate button/

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 7:13pm
  55. /

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 7:13pm
  56. very very sad

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 7:28pm
  57. If society and the religions do not change and stop the hate,this will never change…Bullies learn by what they see,and if they see society and the Church spew hate against the gay community.Then they too will follow suit.

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 7:55pm
  58. So sad

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 8:22pm
  59. the school needs to be held accountable.

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 9:06pm
  60. Really fucking sad..school is responsible, but the parents are the ones that need to be held accountable first. They are teaching the hate

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 9:19pm
  61. It´s not just the adults who have to change, they have to teach enough kids to change, too, in hopes more youths in the school systems will look at their peers and see that bullying makes them nothing more than a terrible person, and is not “cool”.

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 9:32pm
  62. Tell congress to do something about this!

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 9:52pm
  63. Horrible

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 10:03pm
  64. Young people PLEASE!!!! DO NOT GIVE UP!!! THERE ARE SO MANY PEOPLE TO HELP YOU!!! PLEASE SEEK HELP! REACH OUT YOUR HAND…THERE WILL BE ONE THERE FOR YOU!!!

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 10:07pm
  65. That´s extremely tragic. The article was brief but the town meeting seem to be looking at it´s history of teen suicides like it was a fad-not a reaction to the horrible treatment children have to endure. Why is it that the vicitims ultimately get labled as the problem in this society?

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 10:08pm
  66. For the state that years ago legislated marriage equality,and then reaffirmed that legislation, this is just wrong. Come on, Iowa,follow up your commitment to American citizen rights for gays with some caring and tolerance.

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 10:22pm
  67. So heartbreaking

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 11:57pm
  68. dude wtf is with this bullying… i just dont understand it.. i mean like when i came out no one even gave a hoot.. i live in the state right next to iowa(illinois) why is this even a problem and suicide isnt even worth it…

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 11:58pm
  69. just awful, doesn´t this principal see a pattern yet?

    Posted on Monday, July 29, 2013 at 11:59pm
  70. And in a state that allows same sex marriage even. Disgusting.

    Posted on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 12:00am
  71. Society definitely has a long way to go.

    Posted on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 12:01am
  72. Five teens from the SAME school!? What the hell are the teachers and administrators doing at that school? There is obviously something very wrong with the inner workings!

    Posted on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 12:03am
  73. When is this going to stop ? I was 15 when I came out. Kids now need to be loved for who they are. Peace be with his family :(:(

    Posted on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 12:03am
  74. I swear ppl need too leave other ppl alone grrrr that pisses me off >:(

    Posted on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 12:03am
  75. I´m disappointed that this is happening in Iowa. After growing up in that environment over 30 years ago. And not much progress being made. Not sure what to think. Are our educators in Iowa still ignoring the fact gay teens exists everywhere, including their own classrooms?

    Posted on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 12:03am
  76. I hate it when another person bully´s another person all because of there sexuality

    Posted on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 12:05am
  77. So Fucking sad!! It has to stop!!

    Posted on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 12:05am
  78. This school needs to be fixed!

    Posted on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 12:07am
  79. Posted on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 12:07am
  80. Sickening and sad!!!!

    Posted on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 12:07am
  81. there is something very very wrong here. something needs to change???where is the guidance for these students. the bullies and the bullied…step up. stop this

    Posted on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 12:09am
  82. We have to do a concerted campaign to make Gay, cool all over America, then the bullies will look like fools and the suicides will stop!! naive, maybe, but worth a try, n´est pas?

    Posted on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 12:10am
  83. When the fuck are these pathetic schools going to stop this shit! I would never put my kid in public school or any school for that matter. I was abused in school as well and still to this day I am traumatised from it. It´s bullshit. I still feel like a piece of shit subhuman being because I´m gay…. And I hate it.

    Posted on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 12:11am
  84. It is stories like this that makes me ashamed of people in our society who walk over and criticize others for being different. WORDS CAN HURT people, and they do not make you and more powerful or superior. THINK before you mock and single someone out just for being themselves- you have no idea how you make people feel when you bully and slander them. The world is changing ladies and gentlemen, either accept it or just keep to yourselves about it. Some people are LGBT- GET OVER IT!! It doesn´t and shouldn´t matter what sex, race, or religion you are- people are people and should be respected all the same.

    Posted on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 12:13am
  85. Oh no, that poor boy. :(

    Posted on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 12:14am
  86. Iowa school superintendents and teachers need to sit down and see what is going on in there schools

    Posted on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 12:16am
  87. The same thing is probably happening at that school that happened at mine…i was spit on…my hair was pulled out…i was called every name possible and pushed around…the athletic kids and the financially superior ones were let off easy…they put it back on the bullied ones that they are the trouble makers…I live in the quad cities (iowa) and it is rampant in my city…they act like they are helping but it´s their own agenda…it makes me so sad for those who finally can´t take anymore

    Posted on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 12:17am
  88. Jesus…

    Posted on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 12:17am
  89. Wow! It´s a fucked up world where the kids can´t stand the torment so they off themselves. Pretty little country we´ve made here, isn´t it?

    http://www.thezeitgeistmovement.com

    Posted on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 12:18am
  90. This is so senseless…

    Posted on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 12:18am
  91. This seems to be becoming quite a popular trend now. Life is hard, people suck, so let´s kill ourselves.
    Sorry, but frankly as a gay man who grew up in the 70-80´s, was bullied every fucking day and was almost killed on several occasions, I just don´t get it. I mean, I thought about it, but decided against letting anyone else get the satisfaction.
    What´s so different now? Being gay is no longer such a hush hush thing. Heck, it´s mainstream now and so are all the outlets that are there to help. It´s not like there aren´t people there reach out to, both online and out in the real world.

    Posted on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 12:19am
  92. A tragedy that could have been averted.

    Posted on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 12:24am
  93. Why is this being tolerated in our schools?

    Posted on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 12:27am
  94. Those bullies murdered this kid. They broke them mentally and resulted in this suicide. The bullies are killers!

    Posted on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 12:41am
  95. It´s being tolerated cuz it´s Iowa. I was never defended. And I almost died because of my bullies and my schools piss poor job defending me from them.

    The bullies were rich popular or had a reputation that if it came out this kid was a bully they might lose their sports scholarship. I was cast aside

    I had a failed suicide attempt because of my bullies. I survived but I suffer PTSD horribly :-(

    And I live in this shity state of Iowa.

    Posted on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 12:44am
  96. Another horrible loss and unnecessary tragedy. Very, very sad.

    Posted on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 12:50am
  97. Bullying should be a crime. A severely punished crime.

    Posted on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 12:51am
  98. I saw ur earlier post. Shame things don´t seem to change

    Posted on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 1:06am
  99. The bullies stand at the top of the food chain – in Iowa and everywhere. The educators should be removed!

    Posted on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 1:24am
  100. Rip dude

    Posted on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 1:31am
  101. how sad… My heart goes out to Betts´s family…

    Posted on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 1:39am
  102. WHAT THE FUCK
    Can´t we (in the supposed greatest country in the world) do ANYTHING to keep this from happening? There are so many signs and ways to read them plus all the help out there to then work with these teens.
    They say the blood of all the abortions in this world is on our hands. The blood of all the teens who commit suicide is on our hands as well.

    Posted on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 1:45am
  103. Sad…Tired of people making these kids feel ashamed of being gay. They are just kids! Help them to be the best they can….

    Posted on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 1:47am
  104. Well shit. More suicides. Can´t people just stop bullying other people to the point of sticking a gun in their mouth and blowing their brains out. Better yet, these people need better support systems because obviously staying silent is doing nothing. More importantly the parents of the victims need to teach them how to stick up for themselves instead of sitting back and watching their kid waste away and lead themselves on the road of self-destruction.

    Posted on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 1:55am
  105. I bet the bigots still deny that bullying is the problem along with prejudice.

    Posted on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 2:14am
  106. It sickens me that nothing is being done. Had no one seen him being bullied? Had no one done anything since the first death at the school? Someone had to see him being bullied yet did nothing about it. Something needs to be done. Kids beed to be educated on the Consequences This is just sickening.

    Posted on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 2:16am
  107. *need

    Posted on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 2:16am
  108. So sad. I was bullied daily growing up…and was a very lonely kid growing up, skinny and gay…I don´t know how I made it, but I did…but can be so hopeless at times…I feel for this young person….itt does get better….60 years old and been with the same man for over 37 years…

    Posted on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 2:37am
  109. :´(

    Posted on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 2:50am
  110. Shame on the School System for not addressing the issues and have policies for ALL Students! SHAME!

    Posted on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 4:00am
  111. heartbreaking……

    Posted on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 11:24am
  112. So, people in Iowa are breeding mean children.

    Posted on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 12:30pm
  113. Shame on the parents who are the first teachers of these criminal bullies!

    Posted on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 12:31pm
  114. Christopher King, perhaps you live a more urban lifestyle?

    Posted on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 12:33pm
  115. OMG bullies will burn n hell if they dont change!

    Posted on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 3:58pm
  116. =(, Bullies need to be sent to jail..

    Posted on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 5:45pm
  117. Very very sad.

    Posted on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 6:48pm