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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.
Cause of death Suicide by hanging
Resting place Holy Family Cemetery
Essex Junction, Vermont, U.S.
Nationality American
Ethnicity White
Occupation Student
Parents John P. Halligan
Kelly Halligan
Memorial Site

Ryan Patrick Halligan (December 18, 1989 – October 7, 2003) was an American teenager from Essex Junction, Vermont who committed suicide at the age of 13 after bullying 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".

Life and suicideEdit

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 elementary school and, later, middle school. 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 family stated in a short documentary that Halligan enrolled in counseling, with little success. 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.[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.[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 girl, named Ashley, whom Halligan had a crush on pretended to like him but later told him at school that he was a "loser". 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's father also discovered some disturbing conversations between Halligan and a boy with a screen name he didn't recognise. Halligan had also begun communicating online with a penpal 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 penpal answered " Phew. It's about fucking time". However his parents admitted there had been warning signs. He had been going on about how his report card would be bad. 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 family.[3]

On October 7, 2003, when John Halligan, Halligan'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 who woke up and went into the bathroom.


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 bully crowd 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. His parents also found a crude drawing of a boy hanging from a noose. Afterwards he went on to his son's computer and first learned of the cyberbullying 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. 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. The bully burst into tears and 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 discovered a conversation between Halligan and another boy in which the other person came on to Halligan, claiming that he himself was gay, however Halligan didn't shut down the conversation. Instead he had been trying to find out who it was. Halligan's father also learned the name of Halligan's penpal and tracked him down after the boy gave him his real name to his house and spoke to his parents. He also went over there to delete all the conversations between him and Halligan after he posted a conversation between them on his profile. According to Halligan, he never got a satisfying response despite the fact he the police send hard copies of their conversations to the boy's parents. 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 cyberbullying among teens. Ashley also has agreed to be on public T.V. with Mr.Halligan. Halligan's father never gave away the name of the penpal and also knows the name of the bully but has chosen not to tell anyone the names of either of them.

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.[5]

See alsoEdit


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Norton, Justin M. (February 21, 2007). "States Pushing for Laws to Curb Cyberbullying". Fox News.,2933,253259,00.html. Retrieved 2009-05-01.
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Teen suicide: Greater IBMer John Halligan says there IS something we can do". Connections eMagazine. IBM. Retrieved 2009-05-01.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 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. Template:Cite video

External linksEdit