Deirdre O’Brien’s son Liam was wasting away before her eyes, but he wouldn’t tell her what was wrong.Screenshot/CBS New York
As CBS New York reports, the problems began soon after 13-year-old Liam O’Brien made the Garden City Middle School soccer team. Up until the time he started seventh grade, Liam was an active, happy boy. As his mom wrote on Facebook:
Liam went into seventh grade very happy. He had lots of friends, he was always on the go, meeting friends on seventh street, riding his bike, playing soccer and he loved food. A cowboy sandwich was his absolute favorite. He made the seventh grade soccer team and was so happy and proud. He is an amazing soccer player and he earned a spot on that team.
During the seventh-grade year, there were signs of trouble. Liam gave his iPhone back to his mother, telling her it was “too much drama.” He stayed at home more often, refusing to hang out with his friends. Then he came home with a bruise on his face, telling his mother that he’d been punched on the bus.
Deirdre reported the bus incident, but without video evidence or a witness, the school wasn’t able to do anything about it. School ended with Liam making the soccer team again. But as summer began, Liam put down his soccer ball and didn’t pick it up again.
Instead, Liam spent more time with his father at work. Soon, Liam’s parents realized that their son wasn’t eating the way he used to. In fact, Keith O’Brien realized that he simply wasn’t seeing Liam eat at all. And Liam’s weight was plummeting as a result. Deirdre wrote:
When he came home I noticed the weight loss. He started to eat just one meal a day. I kept trying to talk with him. What is going on? “Nothing Mom, I’m fine.”
I took him to the doctor and he had lost about 10 lbs since June. Two Days later he was admitted to Cohens children’s hospital. He hated it and said, “I will eat, please let me come home.”
As Liam started a new year at Garden City Middle School, Deirdre met with school officials to explain her concerns about her son. After just a few days, Liam came home from school with a bruise on his face. He told his mother it was an accident, but it was clear that something was very wrong.
In the first week of school, Liam dropped five pounds. That Monday, instead of sending her son to school, Deirdre sat down with Liam and got the real story. She wrote:
We sat at the kitchen table and we cried and I said, “Please tell me what happened.” He finally couldn’t hold it in anymore. He told me he was bullied terribly in seventh grade. It started when he made the soccer team. Two kids told him he sucked and shouldn’t have made the team. There were unnecessary pushes and kicks. He was told he was weird, he was fat, his freckles were weird, his eyebrows were weird. They used horrible language and called him nasty words. I asked him how often it happened. He looked at me crying and said, “Everyday Mom.”
Liam told his mother he had stopped playing soccer because it reminded him of his bullies — he had grown to believe their taunts that he wasn’t good enough. What’s more, the bruise on Liam’s face wasn’t an accident. He had been pushed into a locker while alone in the locker room with a bully.
Because of his eating disorder and depression, Liam spent the next five weeks in the hospital. Meanwhile, his mother met with school officials, trying to bring their attention to the bullying problem. She wrote:
My son had to have a feeding tube placed and was wearing a heart monitor because his heart rate was so low from malnutrition. He had to be transferred to a more intensive facility. He is opening up more and talking about what happened and how terrible seventh grade was, he has a long road ahead of him. I wish he had come to us and told us earlier but he said he didn’t want to make a big deal or for anyone to get in trouble.
But after an investigation, the school was unable to verify the bullying incidents — despite Deirdre’s photos of the bruise on her son’s face. In the video below, school superintendent Dr. Alan Groveman admitted to CBS New York that their system has difficulty identifying certain types of bullying:
“I can tell you we do a thorough investigation, but can only have a finding when someone comes forward to verify something actually happened. That’s not to say nothing actually happened, it’s just difficult when there is no verification.”
The fact that the school was unable to help her son has left Deirdre fuming about its anti-bullying program, especially as some parents are suggesting that Liam was just oversensitive. She wrote:
I just got an email about unity day next week. Wear your orange shirt to show you are against bullying. Seriously? What a crock of sh*t. Parents, watch and listen to your children. I had a parent tell me her son had a heart of gold and Liam must be a sensitive boy!
In response to the flaw in its system, the school intends to add an anonymous reporting feature to its website. And other parents agree that the school should do more to protect children like Liam, CBS New York reported. Recently, ribbons and shirts declaring “We stand with Liam” began appearing in the area.
Deirdre is grateful that people are becoming more aware of the damage that can be done by systematic bullying. But she hopes that more good can come out of her family’s pain. As she wrote on Facebook:
“I think we can do more than an orange shirt. The school has closed their investigation, but this is not over. I want Liam’s story to be heard.”
You can watch Liam’s story below, via CBS New York: