WILKES-BARRE — John Halligan visits some 200 high schools every year to talk about the suicide of his 13-year-old son, Ryan, who took his own life in 2003 as a result of being bullied.
Halligan will speak at 15 Luzerne County high schools this month — the largest booking he has ever had for one county.
District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis said the issues of bullying and suicide are dear to her heart and she wants her office to do whatever it can to prevent kids from hurting themselves. According to the Luzerne County Coroner’s Office, there were five teen suicides in the county in 2012, three in 2011, two in 2010 and none in 2009.
“Last year we lost so many teenagers to suicide,” said Salavantis. “We decided to take the initiative and bring these programs into schools.”
The program, called “Bullying and Suicide Prevention, ” will include presentations in the evenings for parents and the public.
Halligan, a nationally recognized bullying and suicide prevention speaker, will tell the story of his son, who endured the torment and ridicule associated with bullying.
After losing their son, Halligan and his family made it their life’s mission to educate others on bullying and help encourage victims of bullying to seek assistance. Halligan has spoken across the country at many schools and has created a website — www.ryanpatrickhalligan.org — at which students and victims can seek information and assistance.
Halligan will be in Luzerne County for three weeks, speaking to high school audiences and parents’ groups. “I’ve never been booked for that many weeks in one area,” Halligan, 50, said from his home in Farmingdale, Long Island.
Oct. 7 will mark the 10th anniversary of Ryan’s death. “It was devastating,” Halligan said. “The way I climbed out of that pain was to try to remember him and honor him.”
In 2003, the term “bullying” was not even coined, Halligan said. But since his son’s death, Halligan left his job at IBM and devoted his life to speaking to kids and parents.
According to Halligan, his student presentation begins with video of home movie clips and pictures of Ryan to introduce his son. Halligan then begins to tell the story of Ryan’s life and the factors that led up to his son’s suicide.
According to the website, “the audience gains a unique perspective from inside a family of a child who is a victim of bullying and cyber bullying. They also gain a deeper understanding of the devastating impact of a teen suicide on a family. There are many powerful life lessons imparted, including forgiveness and finding ways to turn a tragedy into hope for others.”
On the website, Halligan says he and his wife place accountability for Ryan’s death foremost on themselves, but they “have no doubt that bullying and cyber bullying were significant environmental factors that triggered Ryan’s depression.”