Several area community educators are teaming up to help parents, teachers and students recognize the signs of cyber bullying.
It's part of the “I Am Somebody” Grant Project--a series of presentations that aim to spread awareness and offer resources for people.
On Monday, a father visited John Muir and Horace Mann middle schools, and also spoke to parents at Wausau East High School about his son's story of being the victim of intense bullying.
Those who knew Ryan Halligan best, described him as sensitive, funny and a little uncoordinated. But once the Vermont boy hit 5th grade, he became an easy target among his peers.
"He was bullied about being potentially gay and there was some girl who pretended to like him online," John Halligan said.
After years of torment, Ryan committed suicide in Oct. of 2003, just two months shy of his 14th birthday.
"There was a point in time when I thought my son just needed a hug and pep talk, and it turned out he needed a lot more support than that," Halligan said.
Yet Ryan's journey was far from over. His father has traveled to nearly 750 schools, "All we can do at this point is take this story and try to share it with others so they don't make the same mistakes that we made," he said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that for youths between the ages of 10 and 24, suicide is the third leading cause of death and results in about 4,600 deaths each year.
A nationwide survey of youth in grades 9 through 12 found that 16 percent reported seriously considering suicide, 13 percent reported creating a plan and 8 percent reported trying to take their own lives in the 12 months preceding the survey, according to the CDC.
Halligan advises parents, students and teachers to look out for any online activity that's concerning, and take action right away if it happens.
"Kids have access now to Facebook, Twitter, AIM, all kinds of things and within that comes a different type of bullying because the kids can be more anonymous, and they can say crueler things," said I Am Somebody grant writer Sarah Murphy.
Murphy is also a 6th grade teacher at John Muir Middle School. She says she brought Halligan to Wausau so students could hear a real-life account of how bullying can destroy lives.
"It's personal, it's real, it's very emotional, and it's raw," she said. "I think we're going to be able to touch them and help them move to make a change on their own and make the schools a better place."
Horace Mann 6th grader Malaya Merriwether says Monday's message reminds her of her own experience with bullies.
"There was a name that someone called me about my race and it really hurt, I couldn't stop crying and I went home and couldn't help feeling that there had to be something wrong with me," Merriwether said.
It wasn't until she told her parents what happened, that she overcame those feelings.
"I don't know what I'd do without them," she said. "If you don't tell somebody, things can only get worse."
It's a lesson she hopes her classmates take to heart before it's too late for another family.
"It really hurts to see that someone would take their life because of being bullied," Merriwether said. "No one should have to be bullied at all."
Click here to learn more about Ryan's Story.
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