Father shares powerful story of losing son to bullying
By Colin Rajala - Staff Writer
Windsor - posted Fri., Feb. 15, 2013
Most people have, at one time or another in their lives, been bullied - either verbally, physically or mentally. Some people manage to overcome the threats and intimidation, and others use it as motivation for change, but some are not able to do that, succumbing to the harassment and coercion, which eventually cripples them.
On Feb. 12, Windsor High School freshmen and sophomores learned firsthand the effects bullying can have on not just an individual, but on an entire family. A group of five students from the Windsor High School Seminar Program invited John Halligan, a father who lost his 13-year-old son to bullying, to share his family's story with the underclassmen.
Halligan introduced his son, Ryan, to the students through a short but emotional video full of candid photographs of him. Halligan’s voice cracked and he fought back tears as he chronicled Ryan’s life from his early childhood until he began to be bullied in fifth grade. Ryan was verbally bullied at first, but that would later grow to physical and mental bullying, both at school and online. Halligan said that when his son committed suicide in the beginning of eighth grade, it was the "pile-on effect" of the variety of issues he had with school, children in the school and teenage depression, which was never diagnosed. Halligan wanted the audience to take a home a lesson he learned from his high school art teacher: "You can always turn an ink blot into a butterfly.” The message resonated on the students' faces.
Halligan told the students that he knows kids looked on and allowed awful things to happen to his son and others who are bullied, despite the fact that they may not be a fan of it. He said the bully typically torments another person for an audience reaction, usually from their friends. He made a point that the bully's friends must take a leap of faith and pull the bully aside - not to snitch, but to tell him or her that tormenting and harassment is not cool and it is not something they support.
Halligan left the students with the simple message to use peer pressure for good rather than evil. “I know what I’m asking will take a lot of courage, it will take a lot of guts, but it is one of the most important, most powerful things you could do at this point," he said. "Stand up to a friend who’s bullying other people. I beg you, don’t be a bystander, be an upstander; stand up to your friends.”
After Halligan's talk, Stella Rivera, a WHS student and presentation coordinator, said, “Sometimes it’s hard because I wish I could shake it into people so they realize what’s going on, but everyone understands at their own pace, and the best thing you can do is try things like this to help them recognize and learn.”
For more information on Ryan’s story, visit www.ryanpatrickhalligan.org.