The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

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July 30, 2013

Iowa mother: Son bullied before suicide attempt

PLEASANT HILL — The mother of a central Iowa high school student says her son attempted suicide after he was bullied for being gay.

Sheryl Moore said Alexander Betts Jr., 16, attempted to kill himself over the weekend because of bullying he experienced for being gay, The Des Moines Register reported.

Moore said she wants to use her son’s experience to educate people about bullying.

“It’s the most painful thing I have ever been through in my entire life,” she said of her son’s attempt to kill himself. “I would not wish that on my worst enemy.”

Friends said Betts was constantly ridiculed because he was gay, half African-American and born with a cleft lip.

Betts attempted to kill himself Friday but he remains on life support at Blank Children’s Hospital as of Monday, a hospital spokeswoman told The Associated Press. The newspaper reported he was being kept alive to repair damage to his organs in order for them to be donated.

Steve Pettit, the high school’s principal, said he could not say if Betts had reported being bullied. Pettit said the school takes such incidents seriously and has procedures in place for allegations of bullying. In 2008, four teenagers killed themselves within seven months.

“We are bringing in support staff to assist students and just honestly listen to them,” he said. “Anytime you lose somebody, especially a young person, it leaves a mark on a lot of people.”

Moore said she wants to help others the way her son helped others.

“He spent his entire life trying to make people feel good,” Moore said.

The issue of teen suicide in Iowa has gained traction in recent years. Gov. Terry Branstad organized a suicide prevention summit in November to address recent deaths. A 14-year-old gay student from a Paullina high school killed himself in April 2012, and two 15-year-old Johnston students killed themselves a day apart in January 2012.

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