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Father Leads Bullying Awareness Walk In Memory Of Son Who Committed Suicide

Ryan Halligan

Ryan Halligan was 13 when he committed suicide in 2003, after being a victim of cyber-bullying. (Credit: Halligan Family)

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NORTH HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — A Long Island man whose son committed suicide after he was bullied at school led the Bullying Awareness Walk Saturday.

As WCBS 880’s Sophia Hall reported, John Halligan had tears in his eyes as he talked about the happy times he had with his son Ryan.

“My son was a sensitive and sweet kid, and very funny. He always said he wanted to be an actor, or a comedian, and I’m sure that is what he would be if he were still alive today,” Halligan said.

Ryan was 13 years old when he committed suicide on Oct. 7, 2003, after being a victim of cyber-bullying.

As a youngster, Ryan had been affectionate and sensitive, but there had been early concerns about his speech, language and motor skills development and he became aware of his academic difficulties as he became older.

During fifth grade, the cyber bullying began, the Halligan family wrote on a Web site dedicated to Ryan.

“A certain kid and his friends picked up on Ryan’s academic weaknesses and his poor physical coordination. But since he was not being physically bullied by these boys, only by words, we advised him to just ignore them, walk away and remember that he had good friends to count on,” John Halligan wrote.

But the bullying persisted in the years to come, and Ryan began asking his parents if they could home school or move him. Ryan ultimately stood up to the bullies after learning self-defense and told his parents the bullying had stopped for a time, John Halligan wrote.

But new concern mounted when Ryan said he was now friends with one of the bullies. Ryan ended up “telling his new friend something embarrassing and funny that happened once” and the bully used it to spread rumors about him, John Halligan wrote.

The situation grew worse still when Ryan approached a “popular” girl from his school online and tried to establish a relationship with her, Halligan wrote.

“When the 8th grade school year started up again, Ryan approached his new girlfriend in person. I’m sure he was never prepared to handle what happened next. In front of her friends she told him he was just a loser and that she did not want anything to do with him. She said she was only joking on-line,” John Halligan wrote. “He found out that her friends and her thought it would be funny to make him think she liked him and to get him to say a lot of personal, embarrassing stuff. She copied and pasted there private IM exchanges into ones with her friends. They all had a good laugh at Ryan’s expense.”

Ryan had been suffering from depression when he committed suicide, and John Halligan wrote that he believes the “pile-on effect” of cyber-bullying and the toxic environment at his middle school brought the depression on.

“We place accountable for this tragedy, first and foremost, on ourselves as his parents… but also on Ryan’s school administration, staff and the young people involved. As parents, we failed to hold the school accountable to maintain an emotionally safe environment for our son while he was alive. But accountability and responsibility should be shared by all involved – parents, bullies, bystanders, teachers and school administrators … basically the whole system,” he wrote.

And at the Bullying Awareness Walk, John Halligan had a message for other youngsters who are the victim of bullying.

“For the rest of 7th grade, I kept checking in with Ryan and asking him if that kid was still bothering him. His answer was always the same … that since that fight, the bully had left him alone. I often thought to myself, “This plan worked perfectly!”

“My message to those who are bullied is to remember that you are loved,” he wrote.

Hundreds of students from the Town of North Hempstead organized the Bullying Awareness Walk which Halligan joined. The walk was held in the town’s Beach Park.

What do you think should be done to stop bullying? Leave your comments below…