Ryan’s Story: Father shares tips on how to prevent teen suicide

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    Ryan Halligan spent the summer before his eighth-grade year in front of a computer talking to a girl on instant messenger.

    He was convinced she liked him. Sure, he had been bullied off and on for the past two years by a boy in his class, but there was at least one girl who thought the 13-year-old was cute.

    By the fall, everything started to fall apart.

    It turned out the girl was only pretending to like Ryan. She would play along and then laugh at their intimate conversations with her friends. The school bully decided to spread a nasty rumor about him around the school. Classmates started to believe it.

    “I thought he just needed a pep talk,” his father, John Halligan, said Wednesday night at Braswell High School. “It wasn’t the time for a pep talk and a hug. It was time for so much more.”

    One day in October 2003, Ryan walked up to the girl who pretended to like him.

    “It’s girls like you that make me want to kill myself,” he said.

    The next day, Ryan was dead.

    He committed suicide after enduring years of abuse, both online and in school.

    “It’s not about throwing punches anymore,” Halligan said. “It’s about throwing words.”

    Since their son’s death, the Halligans have worked to pass anti-bullying laws in their home state of Vermont and John has traveled across the country to give suicide prevention seminars to students and parents.

    Earlier in the day, Halligan spoke to students at Navo and Rodriguez middle schools in the hope of teaching kids to intervene if someone is getting bullied. On Wednesday night, he gave parents some advice on how to spot signs of depression and stop cyberbullying, or online harassment by classmates at school.

    Halligan’s story may hit a little closer to home in Denton County in the wake of a somewhat similar tragedy.

    On New Year’s Day, Gracie Dodd died by suicide at age 14. Lt. Orlando Hinojosa, a spokesman for the Denton County Sheriff’s Office, said another 16-year-old girl attempted suicide at the same time, but was transported to a local hospital.

    Community members held a vigil for Dodd after the incident while Aubrey ISD had counselors and clergy at the high school campus if other students needed to talk to someone. A student at Aubrey High School, Dodd was involved in band and the Future Farmers of America.

    “Gracie had a wonderful sense of humor and was well liked,” Aubrey High School Principal Matt Gore said in a statement. “Her friends said she was always full of energy and enthusiasm. She was an important part of Aubrey High School.”

    Although Gracie’s family said bullying at school or online wasn’t an issue in her life, teen suicide remains a struggle for many kids across the country.

    Statistics from Mental Health America show that suicide is the second leading cause of death for people between 15 and 24 years old, right behind car crashes. More than 4,000 10-to-24-year-olds die by suicide each year.

    Read more at the Denton Record Chronicle

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