By Sarrah Peters, News Editor
On Friday, February 24, John Halligan visited three Gadsden City middle schools. Halligan shared the story of his son Ryan’s life with students at Gadsden Middle, Litchfield Middle and Emma Samson Middle schools. The Gadsden Rotary Club sponsored the presentation.
Halligan’s son Ryan committed suicide on October 7, 2003. Halligan said that the family was shocked. Even though Ryan had been bullied in the past, the family didn’t know anything was currently wrong. In his devastation, Halligan just wanted to know why it had happened, so he began looking for answers.
Halligan began telling Ryan’s story. Ryan was born just a week before Christmas in Poughkeepsie, NY.
“That Christmas, Ryan was the best present of all,” said Halligan, describing the happy baby he had been.
However, Halligan said that there were concerns about Ryan’s speech and motor skills development.
Ryan was placed in special education classes. By the end of fourth grade, he had caught up to his classmates.However, he was frustrated by his lack of academic strength.
In fifth grade, Ryan began to be bullied. Classmates picked on him because he wasn’t athletic and he struggled academically. A particular group, led by one boy, picked on him through fifth and sixth grade. In the seventh grade, Halligan thought the bullying had stopped, until his son asked to be home-schooled or move to a new school. Halligan wanted to go to the school or the bully’s parents, but Ryan begged him not to, instead wanting to learn how to fight. He started Tae Bo lessons, and after a while grew confident enough to confront his bully.
After that, things seemed great. When asked about it, Ryan said the bullying had stopped. Then, Ryan befriended the bully.
The summer after seventh grade, Ryan spent a lot of time online, IMing friends.
When the new year started in fall of 2003, Ryan started eighth grade.
It wasn’t until after Ryan’s death, that his parents learned what happened. For safety, Halligan knew his son’s passwords. He went online to talk to Ryan’s friends to figure out what happened.
Halligan quickly discovered that his new “friend” had been calling Ryan gay since the end of seventh grade. Between seventh and eighth grade Ryan had contacted a girl in his class, perhaps hoping to kill the rumor, and they began conversing romantically. On the first day of school, Ryan had approached her, only to be laughed at. She had only pretended to be interested and had shared the chats with her friends.
Halligan approached the girl. The girl was immediately regretful. After Ryan’s death she was bullied herself.
The bully, however, did not seem regretful. In fact, he had continued saying that Ryan was gay, and that was the real reason behind the suicide. Halligan, though very mad, sat down with the bully and his parents. The bully denied everything at first, but eventually broke down.
“We don’t blame Ryan’s death on one single person or one single event,” said Halligan. “In the end, Ryan was either suffering from depression or lacked the coping skills to deal with the online bullying and the rejection by the girl.”
Halligan told the students that they needed to know that they were “loved beyond belief.” He advised them to tell someone if they were being bullied. He also advised the students to stand up to each other. Halligan said that students were more likely to stop if a friend pulled them aside and told them that what they were doing wasn’t funny or cool.
Halligan went on to help bullying legislature pass in Vermont. For more information, visit www.ryanpatrickhalligan.org.