ARMONK, N.Y. -- John Halligan doesn’t believe that his 13-year-old son, Ryan, killed himself in 2003 because one person was mean to him.
“What happened here was far more complicated than that,” Halligan says in a presentation on teen depression and bullying that he has been giving at schools across the country for the past 12 years.
Halligan, a former IBM engineer from Vermont, will tell Ryan’s story at the H.C. Crittenden Middle School in Armonk's Byram Hills Central School District from 7-8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 18.
He will also be making a presentation to students during the school day. Parents with any questions are being advised to contact the school's guidance office by calling (914) 273-4250.
His talk, aimed at adults, is being sponsored by the HCC Cultural and Curricular Enrichment Committee.
Ryan was born in Poughkeepsie in 1989 just before Christmas, the “best present of all,” said his parents, John and Kelly.
The gap-toothed, brown-hair boy struggled academically and physically in elementary school. But with extra help with school work and reassurances from his family that his strengths lay in his warm and sensitive personality, he seemed to be doing well.
When Ryan was in the fifth grade, he became the target of bullying. With therapy, he seemed to have developed better coping skills and self-esteem.
Ryan grew into a typical teen – moody at times and sweet and funny at others. He loved skateboarding, camping, swimming and playing games on his computer, and instant messaging.
Although his parents had set safety rules for using the Internet, it wasn’t until after Ryan died that they discovered the extent of the bullying he had suffered.
Halligan said he logged into his son’s account and found written exchanges with others and rumors being circulated that Ryan was gay.
Ryan hanged himself on Oct. 7, 2003 in the Halligan’s Essex Junction, Vt., home. He left no note.
Hallign said Ryan’s story is sad, but his intent in telling it is not to make listeners sad, but to challenge them to be “upstanders” instead of bystanders.
Friends and peers of children Ryan’s age have far more say than parents and teachers do, Halligan said in a video on his website.
Halligan argues that Ryan’s friends and the ones that bullied him had “all the power and influence to stop this and they choose not to.”
Nevertheless, adults and teens can take back some of that power, he said.
Halligan was instrumental in getting laws passed in his home state to improve the way schools handle bullying and suicide prevention.
There is no loss like the loss of a child, said Halligan, who has devoted his life to offering practical advice in the hopes it will inspire others to develop their own strategies for preventing bullying and suicide.
“Nothing can ever bring back our Ryan. Nothing will ever heal our broken hearts,” he said in his video talk.
“But we hope by sharing the personal details of our tremendous loss with students and their parents; another family will have been spared a lifelong sentence to this kind of pain.”