Ryan Patrick Halligan|
December 18, 1989
Poughkeepsie, New York, U.S.
October 7, 2003 (aged 13)|
Essex Junction, Vermont, U.S.
|Cause of death||Suicide by hanging|
Holy Family Cemetery|
Essex Junction, Vermont, U.S.
John P. Halligan|
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 cyberbullying 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".
His father named John P. Halligan who was a former IBM engineer subsequently lobbied for the laws to be passed in Vermont to improve how the schools addressed bullying and suicide prevention. He also gave speeches about the story of his son at the schools in the other states.
Halligan's case was cited by the legislators in various states by proposing legislation to curb cyberbullying. In Vermont, the laws are subsequently enacted to address the cyberbullying problem and the risk of teen suicides in response. In 2008, his suicide and it's causes are examined in a segment of the PBS Frontline television program that was entitled "Growing Up Online".
Life and suicide
Halligan was born on December 18, 1989 in Poughkeepsie, New York and the son of John P. and Kelly Halligan. His family moved to Essex Junction, Vermont where Halligan attended elementary school and middle school. He was described by his father as a "gentle and sensitive soul" who experienced some developmental delays by 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 and was eager to do his best", his father said.
In his 1999–2000 school year, Halligan suffered from 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 started again and asked for a Taebo Kick Boxing that was setted for Christmas in order to learn how to defend himself against the bullies. Following a fight in February 2003 which was broken up by the assistant principal, the bully stopped bothering Halligan. Toward the end of 7th grade, Halligan told his father that he and the bully became 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.
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 did not tell his parents about any of this. During the summer, he was cyberbullied by his schoolmates who taunted him by thinking that he was gay. He unintentionally archived these conversations on his hard drive when he installed DeadAIM which was a freeware program. His father also found the transcripts of the online exchanges in this folder of the archived conversations which a girl named Ashley who Halligan had a crush on pretended to like him, but told him at school that he was a "loser". He found out that she only pretended to like him in order to retrieve personal information about him. Their private exchanges are copied and pasted into the 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 was 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 that he did not recognize. Halligan also began communicating online with a penpal about suicide and death and told him that he was thinking about suicide. They are also exchanging the information that they found on the sites that are relating to death and suicide including the sites that taught them how to painlessly kill themselves. The penpal answered, " Phew. It was about fucking time". However, his parents admitted that there are warning signs. He was going on about how his report card would be bad. One night, he asked his father if he ever thought about suicide and his father told him that he did, but also said, "Ryan, imagine if i do that, look at all of the things that we would have missed out on as family.
On October 7, 2003, when John Halligan who was 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 by his older sister who woke up and went into the bathroom.
Although Halligan left no suicide note, his father named John P. Halligan learned about the cyberbullying when he accessed his son's computer. He checked his son's yearbook first and found the faces of the bully crowd scribbled out. Halligan scribbled over the face of the ringleader which was the same boy who fought Halligan, befriended him and started the gay rumor so aggressively that he tore the paper. His parents also found a crude drawing of a boy that was hanging from a noose. Afterward, he went on his son's computer and first learned about the cyberbullying when his son's friends told him. He forgave the girl after he found out that she was being blamed for Halligan's suicide and was going to kill herself due to the 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 called ABC PrimeTime. Although the Halligans moved out of Vermont, she still maintained contact with the Halligans. He confronted the bully who started the gay rumor after he found out that he made fun of how Halligan killed himself through another parent. At first, he was so angry that he wanted to go over there and "crush that kid and kill him", but changed his mind after getting caught in traffic. The bully bursted 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 was not a criminal law that 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 which the other person came on to Halligan by claiming that he was gay. However, Halligan did not shut the conversation down. Instead, he was trying to find out who it was. Halligan's father also learned about 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 of 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 that the police sent the hard copies of their conversations to the boy's parents. He still visited the boy's website which contained several references to death and suicide. He began to lobby for legislation in Vermont to improve how the schools addressed bullying and suicide prevention. He also gave speeches about the story of his son and the devastating effects of cyberbullying among the teens in the schools in various states. Ashley also agreed to be on public T.V. with Mr. Halligan. Halligan's father never gave the name of the penpal away and also knew the name of the bully, but chose not to tell anyone the names of either of them.
Vermont subsequently enacted a Bullying Prevention Policy Law in May 2004 and adopted a Suicide Prevention Law (Act 114) in 2005 closely following a draft that was submitted by Halligan's father. The law provided the measures to assist the teachers and others to recognize and respond to depression and suicide risks among the teens. Halligan's case was also cited by the legislators in the other states that are proposing legislation to curb cyberbullying.
Halligan's story was featured on a Frontline television program that was entitled "Growing Up Online" and produced in January, 2008 by WGBH-TV in Boston and distributed nationwide over PBS. In it, his father recounted his shock upon discovering the extent of the abuse that his son endured by saying that he believed that bullying on the Internet "amplified and accelerated the hurt and pain that he was trying to deal with that started in the real world". Halligan's story was also featured on Oprah in a report that they did on a rise in homophobic teasing in the schools.
- Norton, Justin M. (February 21, 2007). "States Pushing for Laws to Curb Cyberbullying". Fox News. http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,253259,00.html. Retrieved 2009-05-01.
- "Teen suicide: Greater IBMer John Halligan says there IS something we can do". Connections eMagazine. IBM. http://www.ibm.com/ibm/greateribm/connections/connections_article30.shtml. Retrieved 2009-05-01.
- Flowers, John (October 19, 2006). "Cyber-Bullying hits community". Addison County Independent. http://www.addisonindependent.com/node/280. Retrieved 2009-05-01.
- Halligan, John (2009). "Ryan's story". Ryan's Story Presentation. http://www.ryanpatrickhalligan.org/. Retrieved 2010-02-21.
- Template:Cite video
- Template:Find a Grave
- Ryan's Story Presentation, LLC - memorial site
- Online bullying compels states to act
- Included in PBS Frontline report, "Growing Up Online"