With his voice cracking and full of emotion, John Halligan told Springfield students Thursday about the life and death of his 13-year-old son Ryan Halligan. Ryan committed suicide in 2003.
Two months after his son’s suicide, Halligan confronted the bully who had tormented his son for several years and continued to insult Ryan and his memory by saying the teen was “weak,” “couldn’t handle life” and was gay.
Halligan said he was enraged, but calmed down during the drive. He went to the house and spoke with the bully — whom he did not name in his presentation — and his parents.
The bully, at first, denied the accusations.
“I told him, ‘I refuse to believe you’re that heartless.’ And then he started crying,” Halligan said.
Springfield students sat in rapt attention during an assembly Thursday. The national speaker will address students in Poland today.
“You are loved beyond belief and you are never alone,” Halligan told students. “... You have to ask for help because we can’t read your minds.”
Dakota Rudzik, a seventh-grader, said Halligan “has made a difference.”
“He’s saved lives doing this,” Dakota said. “... This was very touching. It’s a topic that affects many people, and some I know personally.”
Eighth-graders Josie Applegarth and Jenny Wrask are members of PANDA Leaders Club, a student service group that discusses issues facing students, such as bullying and drug abuse.
Josie said cell phones and social-networking websites make it difficult to ignore bullying, a point emphasized during Halligan’s presentation.
“A lot of people will post videos [online] and it goes everywhere,” she said. Those actions end up hurting people, she added.
Springfield Intermediate School Principal David Malone said the district takes bullying seriously and has an anonymous bullying tip line and a series of progressive disciplinary actions for infractions.