Programming note: Learn more about Kirk’s story and see how he has turned grief into a mission to help kids in the AC360° documentary “The Bully Effect” on Sunday, March 3 and Saturday, March 9 at 8 p.m. ET.
Kirk Smalley and his wife, Laura, endured every parent’s worst nightmare – burying their child. Their 11-year-old son, Ty, was a victim of bullying.
“This kid that had been picking on him for over two years, came up and starting picking on him again. And I guess Ty finally had enough. He retaliated … he got caught. He was suspended for three days. They called his mama. She went and picked him up, took him home,” said Kirk Smalley.
“She told Ty to do his homework, told him to do his chores, told him we’d talk about it when we got home that evening. When Laura came home … she found out that Ty didn’t do his homework. Our boy didn’t do his chores. Instead, he killed himself on our bedroom floor.”
Ty’s death was nearly three years ago and the pain of that loss is still etched into the faces of his parents. Both seem perpetually on the verge of tears.
“I won’t say goodbye and actually take that time and show that grief for my baby. That’s a form of saying goodbye. And admitting that he ain’t going come through that door again … is something I’m not strong enough to do,” Kirk Smalley said. “His shoes are still in front of the front door, just in case he were to open it and come in.”
In the despair following Ty’s death, Kirk found purpose in continuing the battle his son fought in life.
“One month and seven days after Ty killed himself, it was on Father’s Day. I couldn’t sleep … and that day just loomed and loomed on the horizon and when it finally came, I knew I had to do something,” Kirk said, “so I made a promise to Ty on that day that I was going to stop bullying in this world for him and for all the other kids that are suffering from it. I don’t break promises.”
He and Laura formed an anti-bullying organization with a group of local high school students called Stand for the Silent. Kirk’s life is now a mission to stop bullying, and youth suicide, and his days are spent presenting his son’s story as a cautionary tale to students across the country.
“We do it because we don’t want another family to live our nightmare. Laura doesn’t ever want another mama to find her baby the way she found ours. We don’t want another kid to ever feel the way Ty felt, that that was the only option. We’re not doing it for Ty. We’re doing it for all the other kids out there,” Kirk said.
Another major objective for Stand for the Silent is to inspire students to be the change they want in their schools.
“The main part of our message is not to stand silent and watch it happen and that’s addressing the bystanders,” Kirk said. “If we can empower those kids to be willing to stand up and say ‘you know what – this isn’t right. It’s not funny,’ then we’ll greatly outnumber the bullies. One kid, one voice can make a difference.”
Kirk has done presentations at more than 500 schools and spoken to hundreds of thousands of kids in the nearly three years since Ty's death. Although his work is now focused on students around the country, he always has his son in mind.
“I think that our boy would be proud of me,” he said. “I think that there’s a reason we’re doing what we’re doing. I think I feel him with me when I’m talking to these kids. I know for a fact that there is a reason that we were put on this path, no matter if we want to be here or not.”
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