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Ryan Halligan

Ryan Halligan
Born December 18, 1989(1989-12-18)
Poughkeepsie, New York
Died October 7, 2003 (aged 13)
Essex Junction, Vermont
Nationality American
Occupation Student
Parents John Halligan
Kelly Halligan
Memorial Site

Ryan Patrick Halligan (December 18, 1989 – October 7, 2003) was an Essex Junction, Vermont teenager who died by 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.

Ryan'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 suicide

Ryan 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 Ryan 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 Ryan. Towards the end of 7th grade, Ryan told his father that he and the bully had become friends. However, after Ryan told him something personal, the bully used the information to spread a rumor that Ryan was gay.

According to his father and news reports, Ryan spent much of his time online during the summer of 2003, particularly on AIM and other instant messaging services. 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 whom Ryan 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".[3]

On October 7, 2003, when John Halligan, Ryan's father, was away on business, and everyone else in the Halligan family was sleeping early in the morning, Ryan went into his family's bathroom and hung himself. He was discovered by his sister who was the first one up that morning.


Although Halligan left no suicide note, his father, John P. Halligan, learned of the cyberbullying when he accessed his son's computer.[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.

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".[4]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Norton, Justin M. (February 21, 2007). "States Pushing for Laws to Curb Cyberbullying". Fox News.,2933,253259,00.html. Retrieved 2009-05-01.  
  2. ^ a b "Teen suicide: Greater IBMer John Halligan says there IS something we can do". Connections eMagazine. IBM. Retrieved 2009-05-01.  
  3. ^ a b c d e Flowers, John (October 19, 2006). "Cyber-Bullying hits community". Addison County Independent. Retrieved 2009-05-01.  
  4. ^ Growing Up Online (Chapter 6: "Cyberbullying"). [Television production]. Boston: PBS. January 22, 2008. Event occurs at 0:08:16–0:08:30. Retrieved 2009-05-01.  

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