John Halligan knows all too well what Phoebe Princes’ parents are going through tonight. Phoebe was a 15 year-old freshman at South Hadley High School in Western Massachusetts. Authorities believe she took her own life after being bullied off and online. John was there six years ago when his 13 year-old son, Ryan, took his own life for the same tragic reasons.
The pain is incomprehensible.
It made me realize that taunts at school and online can bring down whole families. But instead of retreating and becoming bitter, this dedicated father has travelled to dozens, maybe hundreds, of elementary, middle and high schools around the country telling kids Ryan’s story.
Recently, I asked John the following question:
After travelling the country and speaking to thousands of kids, what reaction to Ryan’s story are you most amazed or surprised by?
The responses are always overwhelming. I’m always so touched by seeing eyes well up with tears as I speak and look around the auditorium. And when I pause between sentences, the silence tells me they are truly taking this in. When it is over, I’m so heart warmed by students who come up and give me a hug. And what really surprises me is to receive e-mails months and years later from students who heard Ryan’s story. Most tell me that Ryan’s story changed their life for the better. Many confessed they were the bully and have since apologized to their victims and changed their behavior for the better. Understanding now how truly loved they are by family and friends, many students confide in me that they gained the courage and strength to get help for a friend or for themselves for suicidal feelings. This is why I keep telling Ryan’s story.
When I heard Phoebe’s story, I immediately thought of John and his wife, Kelly, and Ryan’s brother and sister. Their hearts must break every time they hear about another victim. They are certainly doing everything they can do to spread the word to stop this madness but they need more help. Obviously, the message didn’t get to South Hadley.
This is happening way too often. We know that kids are basically good. The fact that John sees that when he visits each school is hopeful. What can each of us do to cover the towns, schools, communities that John can’t?
Start talking. Start Listening. Start stepping in. Don’t tolerate your children being mean off or online. Don’t accept it from anyone else.