back to top

We’ve updated our privacy notice and cookie policy. Learn more about cookies, including how to disable them, and find out how we collect your personal data and what we use it for.

16-Year-Old Becomes Fifth Student In Five Years To Commit Suicide At Iowa High School

AJ Betts was bullied for being gay, black, and born with birth defects, his mother said.

Posted on

The mother of 16-year-old Alexander Betts Jr. — AJ, as his friends and family knew him — said Saturday that her son had committed suicide. The Iowa teen was bullied for being gay, black, and having a cleft lip, Sheryl Moore said.

"It must have been really horrible," she told KCCI. "We had no indication that anything was wrong. He is the happiest kid I've ever met."

But AJ started struggling about a year ago, when he was outed as gay, Moore said. He tried to offer support to others going through the same experience.

"Several people who are gay or lesbian teens told us that AJ saved them from committing suicide when they were feeling desperate, 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."

KCCI notes that Betts is the fifth Southeast Polk student in five years to commit suicide. (Not all of the students who committed suicide were motivated by bullying.)

On Monday, Moore said her son was being kept on life support for organ donation. A memorial service will be held at the school's vocal music room; footage aired by KCCI shows Betts performing on stage in a choir.

Jessica Testa is a national reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Jessica Testa at

Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.