John Halligan brings anti-bullying message to Schuylerville students

Schuylerville Middle School and High School students learned the importance of being an upstander and not a bystander when it comes to bullying and harassment during a presentation on Monday, Nov. 24. The message came from John Halligan, a parent whose son committed suicide.

Halligan lost his son, Ryan, to suicide on October 7, 2003 when Ryan was 13 years old. At the time of his death, Ryan was a student at a middle school in Vermont. Saved online conversations revealed that Ryan was ridiculed and humiliated by peers at school and online.

In memory of his son, Halligan spearheaded the passage of the Vermont Bullying Prevention law in 2004. He also successfully led the passage of a law in 2006 that mandated suicide prevention education be part of the public school curriculum.

Halligan has taken his message about the need for more education aimed to prevent bullying, cyberbullying and teen suicide to communities throughout the United States, Canada and Latin America. He and his wife Kelly have appeared on several national television programs, including “Primetime with Diane Sawyer,” PBS’s “Frontline” and “Oprah.”

“I know I can’t stand here and tell my son’s story and touch every single heart and mind in this room; I know that’s not possible,” Halligan told students. “But I’m only looking for one. At least one person in this room is going to take this story to heart, walk out of here, and go up to somebody and simply say ‘I’m sorry.’”

Halligan began his presentation for the students by showing a video of his son.

Halligan said the summer before his son committed suicide, he noticed Ryan spending a greater deal of time online, mainly instant messaging. He would later find out that Ryan was the victim of cyberbullying.

“I don’t blame Ryan’s suicide on one single person or one single event,” he said. “Ryan was suffering from depression. We have no doubt that bullying and cyberbullying were significant environmental factors that triggered Ryan’s depression.”

Angel Rodriguez, a freshman at Schuylerville High School, found Halligan’s story about his son very moving.

“The fact that Mr. Halligan had the courage to come share his son’s story with us is truly incredible,” Rodriguez said. “I hope my classmates were as touched by it as I was.”

Halligan also presented a program for Schuylerville parents. The presentation, titled “Bullying, Technology and Teen Depression,” addressed the latest social media problems facing teenagers. Halligan shared Ryan’s story and described the lessons his family learned through their tragedy. To learn more about Ryan’s story, click here.