Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Educating Us All After A Tragedy


On October 7th, 2003, Ryan Patrick Halligan, just 13 years old, hung himself in his family's bathroom.

Why?

It's a question that still haunts his family to this day. Rather than spend the rest of his life angry at the world, Ryan's dad, John, left his job at IBM to help educate kids and parents on some of the reasons they believe led to his son's ultimate decision.

"Bullying is a big problem in today's schools," said Mr. Halligan, who spoke before a audience of parents at a middle school located on Long Island, New York last night. "Too many schools have just treated this as a kids being kids thing."

It was far from kids being kids as Halligan points out. Some kids in the Vermont middle school spread a rumor that Ryan was gay, leading to a viral bullying frenzy against the shy teenager. Many of these kids would instant message Ryan, teasing him, trying to lure him into gay talk.

Mr. Halligan presented the parents with evidence. He dug deep inside Ryan's computer to try and find answers on what went wrong. What he found was disturbing, sad, and heart-breaking.

"We later found out he was talking to this girl, he really liked her," he said. "They chatted a lot online. We found out from some of his friends that when he went to meet the girl, the girl laughed at him, said it was a joke, called him names, and other girls with her laughed. He was devastated."

It wasn't long after that a friend started calling his son every night for two weeks before Ryan hung himself. "I just handed my son the phone, he would take it, and go to his room," Mr. Halligan said. "I later found out this friend was trying to help him and he promised my son not to say anything. I saw him after my son's death. The kid was crying. I told him it wasn't his fault. He felt so bad."

Then he got the dreaded call. "I never expected to get it," he said, choking back tears. "To tell me that Ryan had killed himself."

Mr. Halligan said he sought therapy after his son's death. "When you lose a son this way, you need it, believe me."

He pointed out that bystanders need to be educated. "If there was one boy who told the boy who was spreading the rumors to stop it, that it wasn't funny ... if there was one girl who told that girl who was chatting with him that it was going to hurt him, break his heart...if..."

Perhaps this is one way for Mr. Halligan to heal, to help educate parents about where the bullying is taking place, the impact it has on our children's emotional health. "We missed so many signs. Kids today won't tell you if they are being bullied for fear that they will be called crybabies or it'll get worse. We have to do a better job communicating with our kids, knowing how technology today is dangerous unless monitored. One of the biggest mistakes we made was letting him have a computer in the bedroom."

Mr. Halligan pointed out that the maturity level for kids is different. "Obviously Ryan wasn't to the level our daughter was at his age."

Mr. Halligan's story has been depicted on the Oprah Winfrey show. The parents were shown the clip, many in the audience dabbing tears from their eyes.

"I would rather not be here, telling you about my story," Mr. Halligan said. "I left my job at IBM a year ago to go around to schools and do this. I would give anything to have Ryan back and my old life back."

For Mr. Halligan, there is no old life waiting for him.

But perhaps because of him, many others can keep their old lives.

For more information, visit http://www.ryanpatrickhalligan.org/ about bullying and teen suicide prevention.

23 comments:

DragonLady said...

I understand, children can be curl and believe me I know and adult can be jest as mean, all ways putting down, I am thankful that God walk with me... I am so sorry about this boy ,my heart go's out to this family..

M.J. Sullivan said...

Thank you for your thoughts. The sad part even after the tragedy, a student in the area defamed the guest book with nasty names. It's just an incredible, sad story but being utilized to help us and others.

Sliding on the Edge said...

Parents need to know about those phone conversations, those cyber encounters. I'm so pleased to hear that the father is out there relating his story so other families don't suffer such terrible tragedies.

M.J. Sullivan said...

The family will never be the same as he said. But perhaps he can reach a few kids or parents each time he speaks. Every parent and kid should see his presentation. I can't do it justice in a simple blog. But his website helps too.

PurlyGirly said...

At a very young age I was a victim of bullying however it was not to the extent of what it is today. Once you got home, bullying was done. It only took place outside the home. Bullying trancends the boundries of privacy for children now, even adults can now be bullied. The internet, cell phones, twitter et al can encompass a dirty little world that in this day and age should really come to a halt. I applaud the father for leaving his job and speaking on behalf of not only his son, but for those children that are still left out there!

M.J. Sullivan said...

Your point about the computer and other tech vehicles is so true. He pointed out with kids being able to shield their identity, even "nice kids" become bullies.

Karen Lange said...

This is so sad, but I am glad to see that good can come out of it through this father's efforts. Will pray for the family. Thanks for sharing this, Mike.
Blessings,
Karen

M.J. Sullivan said...

Thanks Karen. I had to chance to chat with him after the talk. He's a gracious man, happy to have the opportunity to educate parents and kids. But, you can see the strain in his face, the sorrow in his voice.

Barbara J. Robinson said...

This is such a a sad story, but God is using the bad to do good for others. It almost made me cry to read it. The tears bordered. It's so sad that kids can be so mean these days, especially to each other. May God bless this man and help him heal his aching heart through his ministry to others. No telling how many others will be helped. Thanks for this information. Thank God for a man with such courage to share his heartbreak to save others.

M.J. Sullivan said...

Thanks Barbara. I believe what he is doing, talking to kids and parents, is part of his own healing process.

Sandy said...

A good blog, Mike.

You hear so much of this sort of thing these days. It has always gone on, and often these stupid kids are taught by stupid parents.

The peer pressure doesn't help. It makes me angry to see this sort of thing go on.

M.J. Sullivan said...

Thanks Sandy. The sad thing is the place holds 900 and only 90 showed up. If parents don't take this issue seriously, then how do we expect our kids too?

Debbie said...

I heard Megan Meier's mom speak and it really brought home what can happen with cyber bullying. Heartbreaking.

M.J. Sullivan said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I wish more parents would take it seriously. I'm still quite sad about the lack of interest by parents in this subject.

Patricia O'Sullivan said...

Gay suicide is a problem in this country. Not that Ryan was gay, but just being labeled as such drove him to despair.

M.J. Sullivan said...

Unfortunately Patricia, kids use it viciously against other kids. Society as a whole is responsible too and the adults don't address this in a rational, non-bias way, the nastiness will continue.

eliza-ann said...

It is not only kids bullying adults do this to kids and their parents. We still get nasty comments and threats from being in the news. It has upset both of us but really upset Katy. I just thank God she was able to talk it over with me.

M.J. Sullivan said...

Very sorry to hear this. When I heard John speak about this, I was horrified. I get sick to my sick thinking about this. Your family is in my thoughts and prayers every day.

M.J. Sullivan said...

Meant to say sick to my stomach. HUGS.

Selena said...

How horribly tragic and my prayers to go out this family and all families that are dealing with this issue. Bullying is not new, it's been around for every generation, however, the difference now is, is that it seems to have gotten more evil and vindictive and with the internet a lot easier.

It has to be taken serious by schools and the authorities. The future of a bully is most probably riding in a Hell's Angel's gang, because after all, a bully is just a coward who joins other cowards to find strength in their bullying in numbers.

I believe there should be one strike and you're out, if this happens in schools and I hope the law gets a lot tougher on bullying as well.

M.J. Sullivan said...

What disappointed me too was the interest level. The talk was sad, inspiring, and tearful at times. Sending my strength to the family and thanking them for the courage to speak out about one of the most important issues of our time.

Nishant said...

Thank you for your thoughts. The sad part even after the tragedy, a student in the area defamed the guest book with nasty names
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