Suicide of Ryan Halligan

Suicide of Ryan Halligan
Ryan Halligan

Ryan Halligan
Born Ryan Patrick Halligan
December 18, 1989(1989-12-18)
Poughkeepsie, New York, U.S.
Died October 7, 2003(2003-10-07) (aged 13)
Essex Junction, Vermont, U.S.
Resting place Holy Family Cemetery
Essex Junction, Vermont, U.S.
Nationality American
Religion Roman Catholicism
Parents John P. Halligan
Kelly Halligan
Memorial Site

Ryan Patrick Halligan (December 18, 1989 – October 7, 2003) was an American schoolboy from Essex Junction, Vermont, who committed suicide at the age of 13 after being bullied from his classmates in real life and cyber-bullying online. According to the Associated Press, Halligan was repeatedly sent instant messages from middle school classmates accusing him of being gay, and was "threatened, taunted and insulted incessantly".[1]

His father, John P. Halligan, a former IBM engineer, subsequently lobbied for laws to be passed in Vermont to improve how schools address bullying and suicide prevention. He has also given speeches at schools in other states about the story of his son.

Halligan's case has been cited by legislators in various states proposing legislation to curb cyber-bullying.[1] In Vermont, laws were subsequently enacted to address the cyberbullying problem and the risk of teen suicides, in response.[2] In 2008, his suicide and its causes were examined in a segment of the PBS Frontline television program entitled "Growing Up Online". His suicide has also been referenced in many other news stories on bullying.


Life and suicide

Halligan was born on December 18, 1989 in Poughkeepsie, New York, the son of John P. and Kelly Halligan. His family moved to Essex Junction, Vermont, where Halligan attended Hiawatha Elementary School and, later, Albert D. Lawton Middle School.[3] He was described by his father as a "gentle, very sensitive soul", who experienced some developmental delays affecting speech and physical coordination in his early school years. Although he overcame those difficulties by the fourth grade, "He still struggled; school was never easy to him, but he always showed up with a smile on his face, eager to do his best", said his father.[3]

In his 1999–2000 school year, Halligan suffered bullying at the hands of a group of students at his school because of his learning disorder. The bullies had decided that Ryan must be gay because he told a story about him going to the ER with stomach problems. They also saw him as an easy target as he was very sensitive and as a result often burst into tears about these insults. No one stuck up for Ryan as the bullies were all part of the school's popular crowd. Ryan's father states that when Ryan told him he was being picked on his initial response was to just ignore them since they were only bullying him with words. The family stated in a short documentary that Halligan enrolled in counseling, with little success. After that he moved up to middle school where the bullying continued on and off for the next 2 years.

In December 2002, the youngster told his father that the bullying had started again and asked for a Taebo Kick Boxing set for Christmas in order to learn how to defend himself against the bullies. At first Halligan wanted to go to the school principal and sort things out but Ryan wanted to learn how to fight believing that telling would only make things worse. After Christmas Ryan and his father got into a routine where they would practice downstairs in the basement for 2 hours every night. After Ryan had learned to defend himself his father told him that he didn't ever want to hear that Ryan was picking fights at school but he told him that if any of the kids ever touched him Ryan had his father's permission to defend himself as best as he could.[3]

Following a fight in February 2003 which was broken up by the assistant principal, the bully stopped bothering Halligan. Towards the end of 7th grade, Halligan told his father that he and the bully had become friends. However, after Halligan told him about an embarrassing examination that he had at the hospital following stomach pains, the bully used the information to spread a rumor that Halligan was gay.[4]

According to his father and news reports, Halligan spent much of his time online during the summer of 2003, particularly on AIM and other instant messaging services. Halligan didn't tell his parents about any of this. During the summer, he was cyber-bullied by schoolmates who taunted him, thinking he was gay. Ryan was also bullied at school about this and father later found out about one occasion where he ran out of the classroom in tears.[3] He unintentionally archived these conversations on his hard drive when he installed DeadAIM, a freeware program. His dad also found in this folder of archived conversations transcripts of online exchanges in which a popular girl, named Ashley, whom Halligan had a crush on pretended to like him but later told him at school that he was a "loser". Ryan had hoped to convince her because she had once been his friend and had stuck up for him when the bullying first started until she became more popular in middle school according to the ABC Primetime report. He found out she only pretended to like him in order to retrieve personal information about him. Their private exchanges were copied and pasted into other IMs among his schoolmates to embarrass and humiliate him.

After he went up to the girl and she called him a loser, he said "It's girls like you who make me want to kill myself". Halligan found out about this later on because it was also a matter of record with the local police. Halligan's father also discovered some disturbing conversations between Halligan and a boy with a screen name he didn't recognize. Halligan had also begun communicating online with a pen-pal about suicide and death and told him he was thinking about suicide. They had also been exchanging information they had found on sites relating to death and suicide including sites that taught them how to painlessly kill themselves. The pen-pal answered "Phew. It's about fucking time." shortly after Ryan told him he was thinking about suicide, 2 weeks before he killed himself. This was the last conversation he ever had with the pen-pal. As Halligan found out contrary to popular belief Ryan's pen-pal was a boy Ryan knew up until third grade when the boy and his parents moved away and that they had found each other online and reconnected.

Unfortunately the pen-pal who at this point was in the same grade as Ryan had, according to Halligan's father, turned into a very negative person with a bleak outlook on life. Online they would talk about how much they hated the popular kids and how they made them feel and then the pen-pal suggested suicide as a way out saying that "If you killed yourself you would really make them feel bad." Ryan's father stated that the boy was the worst possible so called friend that Ryan could have had at this point in time. However his parents admitted there had been warning signs. He had been going on about how his report card would be bad. Ryan would keep going on about it stating that his parents would be so disappointed in him. One night he asked his dad if he had ever thought of suicide and father told him that he had but also said "Ryan, imagine if I did do that. Look at all the things we would have missed out on as a family.[3]

On October 7, 2003, when John Halligan, Ryan's father, was away on business, and everyone else in the Halligan family was sleeping early in the morning, Halligan committed suicide. His body was found later by his older sister.

Although Halligan left no suicide note, his father, John P. Halligan, learned of the cyberbullying when he accessed his son's computer. He had checked his son's yearbook first and found the faces of the bullying group scribbled out. Halligan had scribbled over the face of the ringleader (the same boy who fought Halligan, befriended him, and then started the gay rumor) so aggressively he had torn the paper. Afterwards he went on to his son's computer and first learned of the cyber-bullying when his son's friends told him. He forgave the girl after he found out she was being blamed for Halligan's suicide and was going to kill herself due to guilt over his death and subsequently had her brought over to his house. He reportedly said to her "You did a bad thing, but you're not a bad person". She would go on to speak out against bullying with Halligan's father on the popular show ABC Primetime. Although the Halligans moved out of Vermont, she still maintains contact with the Halligans.

He confronted the bully who had started the gay rumor after he found out he had made fun of how Halligan killed himself through another parent. At first he was so angry he wanted to go over there and "crush that kid and kill him" but later changed his mind after getting caught in traffic and had time to think over his wife's warning not to do anything to the child he might regret. Halligan reportedly said "You have no idea the amount of pain you caused my son. And you're still bullying him now even when he's defenseless and you are still lying to your parents about it. I refuse to believe that you are so cruel and that you don't have a heart." Shortly afterwards the bully broke down into tears and repeatedly apologized for what he did.

John Halligan also wanted to file charges against the bully but the police informed him that there wasn't a criminal law they could charge him with. However he also forgave the bully along with the girl. Halligan's father also learned the name of Halligan's pen-pal and tracked him to his house and spoke to his parents. He went over there to delete all the conversations between him and Halligan after he posted a conversation between them on his profile. Halligan stated that he didn't want the penpal to use the conversations for "something dark". However he was scared that the boy was thinking of committing suicide even telling the father so before he went to their house. Whilst he was over there he discovered that the boy's father never received any hard copies of the conversations. At this point the penpal's mother came and pulled out the hard copies from under the sofa showing them to the father for "what appeared to be the first time". Whilst the father was looking at the copies the mother threw him out. According to Halligan he never got a satisfying response from the boy or his family. He still visits the boy's website which contains several references to death and suicide.[3]

He began to lobby for legislation in Vermont to improve how schools address bullying and suicide prevention. He has also given speeches to schools in various states about the story of his son and the devastating effects of cyber-bullying among teens. Ashley also has agreed to be on public T.V. with Mr. Halligan.

Vermont subsequently enacted a Bullying Prevention Policy Law in May 2004 and later adopted a Suicide Prevention Law (Act 114) in 2005 closely following a draft submitted by Halligan's father. The law provides measures to assist teachers and others to recognize and respond to depression and suicide risks among teens.[2] Halligan's case has also been cited by legislators in other states proposing legislation to curb cyber-bullying.[1]

Halligan's story was featured on a Frontline television program entitled "Growing Up Online", produced in January, 2008, by WGBH-TV in Boston and distributed nationwide over PBS. In it, his father recounts his shock upon discovering the extent of the abuse his son endured, saying he believes that bullying on the internet "amplified and accelerated the hurt and pain he was trying to deal with, that started in the real world". Halligan's story has also been featured on Oprah in a report they did on a rise in homophobic teasing in schools. In addition, he presented his powerful assembley to many schools across the country. [5]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Norton, Justin M. (February 21, 2007). "States Pushing for Laws to Curb Cyberbullying". Fox News.,2933,253259,00.html. Retrieved 2009-05-01. 
  2. ^ a b "Teen suicide: Greater IBMer John Halligan says there IS something we can do". Connections eMagazine. IBM. Retrieved 2009-05-01. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Flowers, John (October 19, 2006). "Cyber-Bullying hits community". Addison County Independent. Retrieved 2009-05-01. 
  4. ^ Halligan, John (2009). "Ryan's story". Ryan's Story Presentation. Retrieved 2010-02-21. 
  5. ^ "Growing Up Online (Chapter 6: "Cyberbullying")". "Frontline" (Boston: PBS): Event occurs at 0:08:16–0:08:30. January 22, 2008. Retrieved 2009-05-01. 

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