East Rockaway Junior-Senior High School students and district parents had an opportunity to hear about the life and death of Ryan Patrick Halligan when his father, John Halligan, visited the school on Dec. 14-15.
Ryan Halligan took his own life in 2003 at the age of 13. Mr. Halligan, who shared photos of Ryan and their family as part of his presentation, spoke about the devastation of losing his son and the days that followed as he looked for an answer. Why? Why would his son, who was loved so much, take his own life?
Mr. Halligan told the students that he hoped they would “think differently about the issue of bullying and how we treat each other” after hearing Ryan’s story.
Ryan and his family moved to Vermont in 1993, and for the first few years, things went well. However, in the fifth grade, Ryan started to get bullied by one particular boy and his friends. Mr. Halligan recounted the tearful moments around the kitchen table and the typical parental advice he gave his son to understand that the bully probably had his own issues and to ignore him.
Things seemed to improve until the seventh grade, when Ryan asked to be homeschooled or to move because the same boy had started bullying him again. At that point, his father suggested calling the school or the boy’s parents, but Ryan begged him not to. Eventually, things settled down. By the end of the school year, he told his dad that he and the boy were friends.
During the summer before his eighth-grade year, Ryan spent a lot of time on the computer. It was there that his parents would find the reasons behind his decision to end his life — two days after his funeral.
Apparently, Ryan had told his new “friend,” the bully, a story that he thought was funny and the bully began to spread a rumor that Ryan was gay. Ryan was so upset that during points of the school day, he would hide in the boys’ bathroom to avoid ridicule from his classmates. In addition, Mr. Halligan learned that over the summer, Ryan had been communicating with one of the more popular girls in school. While reading the exchanges the two had, which were saved on Ryan’s computer, Mr. Halligan thought they were boyfriend and girlfriend, but ultimately found out that this girl and her friends thought it would be funny for her to pretend to like Ryan and to get him to share personal information, which she copied and sent to her friends.
Mr. Halligan told students he didn’t blame those kids for his son’s death and realized his son had suffered from depression. He also acknowledged that he wished he and his wife had responded differently when Ryan came to them.
Interim Principal Neil Lederer said he was extremely pleased that students had an opportunity to see Mr. Halligan’s presentation.
“The students gained insights into the terrible impact that bullying and cyberbullying can have on their intended victims,” Mr. Lederer said. “Additionally, the students were well -prepared by our social workers and guidance counselors, and all indications are that our students have been sensitized to the evils of bullying in any form.”
Parents also benefited from the presentation, as they learned ways to recognize teen depression and were given steps they could take to help their children.
“Dealing with bullying requires the collaborative efforts of our school, the community and the home,” Mr. Lederer said. “East Rockaway Junior-Senior High School is committed to reducing bullying to the benefit of our students.”