Keith Val­ley students learn bul­ly­ing con­se­quences

Public Spirit - - FRONT PAGE - By Caitlin Burns

cburns@jour­nal­reg­is­ Eighth-grade students at Keith Val­ley Mid­dle School in Hor­sham learned about the dev­as­tat­ing con­se­quences of bul­ly­ing at an assem­bly Sept. 19 when anti-bully ad­vo­cate John Hal­li­gan shared his fam­ily’s story.

Spon­sored by the Mont­gomery County Dis­trict At­tor­ney’s Of­fice and hosted by KV K’NEX, the pro­gram aimed to ed­u­cate students about the psy­cho­log­i­cal ef­fects of bul­ly­ing through the story of Ryan Hal­li­gan, Hal­li­gan’s 13-year-old son who killed him­self af­ter be­ing se­verely bul­lied and hu­mil­i­ated by his peers.

“When you bully some­one you’re not just bul­ly­ing them, you’re bul­ly­ing their en­tire fam­ily,” Hal­li­gan said. “It’s like they dropped a bomb in the mid­dle of mine.”

To start his pre­sen­ta­tion, Hal­li­gan played a movie of his son for the students show­ing the ac­tiv­i­ties he liked to play and hol­i­days they had en­joyed to­gether. Then he told students how his “warm, sen­si­tive souled” son went from be­ing a child try­ing to cope with bul­ly­ing in mid­dle school to com­mit­ting sui­cide on Oct. 7, 2003.

“Don’t ever be­lieve that you aren’t loved,” Hal­li­gan said. “I am con­vinced there’s no greater hu­man pain than a par­ent los­ing a child.”

Hal­li­gan said his son started be­ing the vic­tim of bul­ly­ing when he was in fifth grade. Ryan had moved from spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion, which he’d been placed in due to mo­tor skills and speech chal­lenges, into the reg­u­lar class­room. His peers picked up on Ryan’s chal­lenges of keep­ing av­er­age grades and bul­lied him about it. Hal­li­gan said at this time, he and his wife talked to Ryan about cop­ing with the mean things his peers would say.

“I be­lieve some­where around fifth grade there’s a mean­ness switch that goes on,” Hal­li­gan said to students. “We told him ‘You need to learn to ig­nore them.’”

Once Ryan moved into mid­dle school, Hal­li­gan said Ryan faced the same ridicule. When Ryan went to seventh grade he thought he was old enough to deal with this on his own and felt em­bar­rassed hav­ing to ask for help, un­til one night in De­cem­ber 2002, Hal­li­gan said, when he found Ryan up­set and with his head on the kitchen ta­ble. He said Ryan asked to home schooled and said “he hated that school.”

“He said ‘I want you to teach me how to de­fend my­self,’” Hal­li­gan said. “I im­me­di­ately thought of “The Karate Kid.”

Ryan learned to fight us­ing Billy Blank’s Taebo tape and even kept him­self safe when the boy bul­ly­ing him tried to hurt him. But then at the end of his seventh-grade year, when Ryan thought he’d ac­tu­ally be­come friends with the bully, it started again through the use of ru­mors and cy­ber­bul­ly­ing.

“When you asked Ryan what he wanted to be when he grew up, he’d say an ac­tor and comedian,” Hal­li­gan said.

At the end of seventh grade, Ryan told the bully a story about ab­dom­i­nal is­sues he had had in an at­tempt to be funny. In re­turn, the bully spread ru­mors about Ryan say­ing he was gay be­cause of the story he’d told.

“He was prob­a­bly em­bar­rassed and thought how do I tell my mom and dad about this?”

In­stead, Ryan took to the In­ter­net over the sum­mer, try­ing to con­vince his peers the ru­mor was false. He had also started talk­ing to a girl from school who pre­tended to like him. Hal­li­gan said he found out from Ryan’s friends that on the day he died Ryan ap­proached the girl who had hu­mil­i­ated him and said, “It’s girls like

like you that make me want to kill my­self.” How­ever, Ryan had not ap­proached his par­ents with any of these prob­lems.

“On the day my son died we tore the house apart search­ing for the sui­cide note. We never found a note,” Hal­li­gan said. “Turns out its a myth [that peo­ple leave sui­cide notes].”

In­stead, while Hal­li­gan was sit­ting in Ryan’s room, he dis­cov­ered his year­book and the an­swers to why Ryan de­cided sui­cide was the an­swer. Ryan had writ­ten an­gry com­ments on top of the pho­tos of the peo­ple who had bul­lied him. Hal­li­gan de­scribed it as a mes­sage from his son say­ing, “some­thing went wrong.” Once Hal­li­gan saw the com­ments in the year­book, he turned to Ryan’s In­stant Mes­sanger, where’d he’d been all sum­mer and dis­cov­ered all the cruel things peo­ple had said.

“My heart broke,” Hal­li­gan said. “This world you are grow­ing up in is very dif­fer­ent than the one I did ... “The Karate Kid” plan was a stupid plan.”

Af­ter his pre­sen­ta­tions Hal­li­gan al- lowed students to ask him ques­tions. Many asked about how to safely step in on a bul­ly­ing sit­u­a­tion, about how Ryan’s sib­lings han­dled his death and what hap­pened af­ter to Ryan’s peers who had bul­lied him. To sev­eral Hal­li­gan told them they were “ma­ture be­yond their years” be­cause they wanted to know more about help­ing oth­ers when it came to bul­ly­ing.

“If my son could be here in front of you to­day, he would tell you all he made a tragic mis­take,” Hal­li­gan said. “I be­lieve in the end my son died of an ill­ness. An ill­ness called de­pres­sion that went un­treated.”

Mont­gomery Me­dia staff pho­tos / BOB RAINES

John Hal­li­gan tells the story of his son, Ryan, who com­mit­ted sui­cide be­cause of bul­ly­ing.

A Keith Val­ley Mid­dle School stu­dent lis­tens to John Hal­li­gan speak about his son, who com­mit­ted sui­cide be­cause of bul­ly­ing.

Mont­gomery Me­dia staff photo / BOB RAINES

John Hal­li­gan tells the story of his son, Ryan, who com­mit­ted sui­cide be­cause of bul­ly­ing.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.