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Father shares son’s tragic story as warning for parents during Bossier Schools talk

John Halligan shared the story of how he lost his son, Ryan, to suicide from bullying during a special presentation at the BIC in Bossier City last week. (Stacey Tinsley/Press-Tribune)

By Stacey Tinsley, stinsley@bossierpress.com

The father of a son who committed suicide caused by cyber bullying spoke to community residents Wednesday night at a special presentation held at the Bossier Instructional Center.

John Halligan wanted to share the story of his son, Ryan, so no parent ever has to suffer through the tragedy he has. 

Ryan Halligan was born on December 18, 1989 in New York. He and his family moved to Essex Junction, Vermont, where Ryan attended Hiawatha Elementary School and, later, Albert D. Lawton Middle School. 

He described Ryan as a “gentle, very sensitive soul.”

He said Ryan 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.

When Ryan was 10 years old, he suffered bullying at the hands of a group of students at his school because of his learning disorder, his passion for music, and his love for drama. 

“When Ryan told me he was being picked on, my initial response was to ignore it as they were just bullying him with words,” John said.

Ryan then advanced to middle school, where the bullying continued and Ryan asked for a special defense course to learn how to defend himself. 

“When Ryan first told me that he was bullied again, I wanted to go to the school principal and sort things out, but Ryan insisted that he wanted to learn how to fight, believing that complaining to the school about the boys would make things worse,” said John.

In February 2003, Ryan had a fight with a bully. After that, the bully stopped bothering him. Then, the bully began spreading a rumor saying Ryan was a homosexual.

During the summer of 2003, Ryan spent much of his time online. During the summer, he was cyber-bullied by schoolmates. 

Ryan had deliberately saved transcripts of online exchanges in which Ashley, a popular girl whom he had a crush on, pretended to like him. Later at school, Ashley told him that she was only kidding and that he was a “loser.”.

“Ryan had unintentionally archived online conversations on his hard drive, so I was able to read these discussions,” John said. “She copied and pasted their private exchanges into other IMs among his schoolmates to embarrass and humiliate him.” 

John says that Ryan told her, “It’s girls like you who make me want to kill myself.” On Oct. 7, 2003 at the age of 13, Ryan committed suicide. 

This tragedy has led John to be outspoken about the need for more awareness and prevention of bullying, cyberbullying and teen suicide. 

He and his wife Kelly have appeared on several national TV programs including Primetime with Diane Sawyer, PBS Frontline and Oprah. John has lobbied for legislation in Vermont to improve how schools address bullying and suicide prevention. He has also shared his son’s story at schools in various states.

For further information on Ryan’s story or to learn about preventative measures regarding bullying, please visit: RyansStory.org.

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Sean Green is managing editor of the Bossier Press-Tribune.