A memorial service is being held this morning for the fifth suicide in as many years at Pleasant Hill, Iowa’s Southeast Polk High School. 16-year-old AJ Betts stood up for other gay kids, but after being outed himself, he suffered harassment from his peers for being “different.” He took his own life over the weekend.
“You’re hurting people with words. I lost my best friend because of words,” Noah Lahmann lamented to KCCI News. According to Lahmann and AJ’s other friends, AJ was constantly ridiculed not only for being gay but for having a cleft lip and being half black. “He’s different. He doesn’t add up to what they’re used to,” added Lahmann.
AJ’s mother, Sheryl Moore, had no idea of the torment her son was put through as he was always “the happiest kid I’ve ever met.” As her son’s friends paid their respects, Moore learned to a degree how bad things were for him.
“About a year and a half ago, AJ was outed as gay at SE Polk High School,” Moore said. “Everyone got a long with my son very well until they found out he was gay.” Sadly, AJ did not benefit from the support he provided to others and the harassment became too much for him to bear.
“Several people who are gay or lesbian teens told us that AJ saved them from committing suicide when they were feeling desperate,” said Moore, who wishes to see her son’s life not lost in vain. “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.”