John Halligan doesn’t talk about how his son, Ryan, died.
It’s not the how that matters, as Halligan last summer.
It’s what led up to it—what seemed at the time just words, which eventually spiraled into a fatal mix of bullying and depression—that Halligan focuses on, and how to change things before they get out of control.
“Kids are always on the front lines of this,” Halligan said at the conference.
But while kids may be closest to it, Halligan advocates education and more open communication between parents, teachers, community members—anyone who may be able to step in and help.
“We’ve got to talk with each other more,” Halligan told that audience last year.
And Halligan will bring that message to West Deptford Wednesday night, as part of the district’s efforts to educate parents and community members about the new anti-bullying laws in New Jersey, and what can be done to help prevent bullying—whether at school, on the playground or at home.
"It is an unbelievable, amazing presentation,” district anti-bullying coordinator Kristin O’Neil said. "His message is so powerful."
O’Neil had never heard of Halligan before seeing him at the conference last year, but said she knew immediately after that she wanted to have Halligan speak to the entire West Deptford community.
“(Bullying) is something that we all need to be aware of," O’Neil said.
As the district’s anti-bullying coordinator, O’Neil said she’s seen some frustration on the part of parents who struggle with the problem of bullying, but emphasized—as New Jersey’s anti-bullying does—that the solution lies in education, rather than punishment.
Cracking down hard on bullies, or taking extreme measures like expulsion, aren’t effective, O’Neil said.
"That will not stop bullying," she said.
Instead, O’Neil echoed Halligan’s points, saying it’s more important to get kids to learn from the situation.
“Our job is to use those moments as teachable moments,” she said.
That’s why it’s important for parents to hear what Halligan has to say, O’Neil said, to find better solutions to the problem.
“Helping our kids is everyone's job,” she said.
Halligan will also speak to West Deptford Middle School students this spring, and will bring his presentation before the high school’s population in the fall.
His presentation to parents begins at 7 p.m. at the Wednesday night.