Mom speaks out after bullied teen commits suicide

AJ Betts

PLEASANT HILL, Iowa – July 29, 2013 —Mental health support professionals will be at Southeast Polk High School Monday night following the suicide of a 16-year-old student over the weekend.

AJ Betts is the fifth student from Southeast Polk High school to commit suicide 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.

“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 said she will never know exactly how horrible the bullying was.

“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.

The teen kept a tough exterior and a smile on his face despite what his mother is learning from his friends as they pay their respects.

“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,” said Moore.

The teen’s friends said Betts was constantly ridiculed not only for being gay, but also because he was half African-American and was born with a cleft lip.

“He’s different. He doesn’t add up to what they’re used to,” said the teen’s best friend, Noah Lahmann.

But what his bullies considered different, other people considered special.

“He was an individual. Everyone who has met him says he was a character. He never met a stranger,” said Moore.

The teen’s distinctive personality drew kindness out of others. In 2007, a dentist who met Betts decided to give him a smile for Christmas.

“Other kids might not make fun of me anymore, because my teeth are going to be straight,” the teen said in 2007.

But from that time until high school, Moore said the burden of bullies grew heavy on her son.

“He lets the things that hurt him build up without anyone knowing,” said Moore.

The burden became too much before anyone could do for him what he did for others.

“Several people who are gay or lesbian teens told us that AJ saved them from committing suicide when they were feeling desperate,” said Moore. “And I really hope, for AJ’s sake, that we can stop it, so that maybe, even if we can save one more life from bullying, that would be a success.”

In his death, Betts’ family and friends hope he will continue to make a difference.

“Bullying is a big deal, and it’s still happening,” said Moore.

“You’re hurting people with words. I lost my best friend because of words,” said Lahmann.

Source: KCCI News

Published by Cara Zara

Professional entertainer and educator Cara Zara has performed at festivals, events, libraries, charity functions, and summer camps throughout the Southeast and has interacted with over 250,000 children. She has been teaching her popular programs since 2011 and has taught at over 200 private and public schools throughout Charlotte-Mecklenburg and surrounding counties. She loves inspiring children to learn and be physically active through fun movement and laughter.

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