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Saturday 30 August 2014

Mother left 'numb' by loss of daughters

PHILIP RYAN

Published 16/12/2012 | 05:00

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Community is left reeling in shock over the tragic loss of two teenage sisters in the space of just seven weeks

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THE country was in a state of shock when news first broke about the tragic circumstances that led to the untimely death of 13-year-old Erin Gallagher.

It was impossible for most people to fathom what burden could have caused a beautiful teenage girl to take her own life at an age when most of her peers are carefree.

It was reported that cyber-bullying could have played a role in her death and duly gardai investigated the matter along with school authorities at Finn Valley College in Stranorlar, Co Donegal.

Erin's death came just six weeks after 15-year-old Ciara Pugsley from Leitrim took her own life after she too had been bullied online, according to her father.

There was widespread condemnation of social networking website Ask.fm when it was revealed that the day before she died Erin had told anonymous bullies that she would kill herself if they continued to tease her with nasty comments.

She said: "Do u think ur funny bulling me over ask.fm yeah u prob think it was funny when a f***in put a rope round my neck cause of yous, yous are that sad! Leave it now u had ur f***in fun get over it!"

The thoughts of the nation were with Erin's mother Lorraine, 36, her 15-year-old sister Shannon and four-year-old brother Sean James.

It was unimaginable that a worse fate could befall the young family as they grieved the loss of the shy but affectionate young girl from their lives.

But then the unimaginable did happen.

On Wednesday, Erin's sister Shannon was also found dead in a foster home where she had been staying as she tried to come to terms with the death of her little sister.

It had been just over seven weeks since Erin took her own life in her bedroom at the family home in the Silverwood Estate, Ballybofey.

Her mother said her daughter was been harrassed on social networking site Facebook and through text messages on her phone.

Lorraine said: "The bullying had been really bad, but it seemed like she was getting better.

"It had been going on since the summer but got much worse when she got back to school."

Lorraine said gardai told her that without proof of Erin been physically assaulted by bulllies there was little they could do.

She said: "Erin couldn't prove who was doing it, but we believed we knew who it was."

Soon after Erin's death, Donegal Mayor Frank McBrearty also revealed that a concerned parent from the board of management at Finn Valley College had reported to social services that the teenager was contemplating suicide. Mr McBrearty called for a full investigation into the claims.

The principal of Finn Valley College, Frank Dooley, urged caution following Erin's death and was reluctant to blame bullying for the youngster's suicide.

Commenting on the message Erin left on the social networking site Ask.fm, Mr Dooley told the Sunday Independent: "Now how reliable are those words?

"As in they are actually the views of a person. And they are the views of a child who is under severe trauma.

"And I'm saying, well, how truthful is that? Can anybody go back and say that they are true in their meaning?

"I'm just saying that it's a very big step to make, is to say that this is the truthful situation, the last words of a child."

Brendan O'Connor Page 30

However, parish priest John Joe Duffy was in no doubt that cyber-bullying played a part in the young girl's untimely demise.

During Erin's funeral Mass in Saint Mary's Church, Stranorlar, the cleric called on teenagers to log out of their Ask.fm accounts.

Fr Duffy questioned why social media websites continue to be unregulated and also called for greater resources to be made available for suicide prevention services.

Shannon remained by her mother's side during the service where they both said an emotional goodbye to their "little angel".

A week after her daughter's funeral Lorraine called for action to be taken about online bullying and appealed to authorities to let Erin be the last to die so tragically.

She warned: "Something has to be done about bullying, about internet bullying and about teenage suicide.

"I just hope Erin is the last here, and that no one has to go through what she went through."

The community was divided when the youngster's death became a national tragedy and there was a number of attacks on homes reported to gardai in the aftermath.

Two teenager girls presented themselves to gardai fearing for their safety when they were named locally and on social media as having been responsible for causing Erin's death, although it appears they were innocent and may have had their identities stolen.

One of the girls accused of bullying Erin is said to have also suffered a bereavement in her family through suicide in recent years.

Gardai did question teenagers who went to Erin's school and also examined her mobile phone but, as of yet, no one has been arrested.

Since her sister's death Shannon had struggled to adjust to life without her "baby doll" as she affectionately called Erin.

Locals say Shannon was protective and very close to her younger sister but was quite shy and reserved herself.

Even before her sister died, Shannon, who was in transition year in Finn Valley College, had struggled emotionally.

She had been receiving regular counselling and was staying with a foster family just outside Castlefin, around 10 miles from her home in Ballybofey.

On Wednesday evening, while wrapping Christmas presents, Shannon posted a message on Facebook saying, "this is the hardest thing I've had to do, baby doll."

Hours later she was found dead by the foster family that had been caring for her.

Lorraine, who begged that Erin would be the last teenager to suffer such a horrendous death, must now adjust to life without both her daughters. And four-year-old Sean James will never really know his sisters.

On Thursday, Lorraine said she was "numb" and the family appealed for privacy as they prepared to bury Shannon.

The HSE released a statement after expressing their "deepest sympathies to the family and friends of the deceased."

It added: "Families engage with the HSE on the basis of confidentiality. The HSE respects the confidential nature of this engagement with the services and does not comment on individuals."

The HSE said it was working closely with the school and local community to provide a wide range of support through psychology and mental health services.

Finn Valley College again had to tell pupils and staff about the death of a teenage student and a crisis team consisting of psychologists and guidance counsellors was put in place.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Mr McBrearty said the community was devastated following the double tragedy and now people feared more copycat incidents.

"Parents are worried. I'm a father with three daughters and it's something I worry about. I don't know what my children are doing on the internet."

Another concerned parent, whose son was good friends with Shannon, said the community had been rocked by the events of the last two months.

He said: "You don't know what's going on in people's heads. It's a great school and it has great teachers. I just don't know how this could happen.

"I have a few going to Finn Valley myself. One of my young lads was quite close to Shannon. He's devastated now. He couldn't face going to school."

Yesterday, Lorraine returned to Saint Mary's Church but this time without Shannon by her side. In a statement released on Friday she said she would remain strong for her girls and their little brother.

But echoes of her plea to let Erin be the last teenager to take her own life are still resonating throughout the community and the rest of the country.

Sunday Independent

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