February 26th, 2013
10:15 AM ET

A father finds purpose after his son’s suicide

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.


Students in "Stand for the Silent." Photo credit: Oklahoma State University, Oklahoma City


Kirk Smalley at a presentation for "Stand for the Silent." Photo credit: The Oklahoman

“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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Filed under: Bullying • The Bully Effect
soundoff (24 Responses)
  1. ChrisV

    I was a victim of bullying for most of my life in school back in the 50's and 60's. In Jr. High and high schools even the PE teachers got in on it. But I had a few great teachers that recognized me and showed me that I was worthy of their respect. So even though I hated school for ever, guess what i am doing? Yep, I've been teaching primary school. Bullying will never go away, so its more an issue of learning to take it with grace and focus on good things we can do for others, even the bullies.

    March 5, 2013 at 7:15 pm |
  2. Janice

    I too was bullied as a child at home and at school. I tried to commit suicide several times in high school. I was very moved by the movie Bully and the movement that Kirk Smalley has become part of. I wish I could participate in Stand for the Silent movement. But I am not a parent or involved with kids in anyway.

    March 1, 2013 at 11:39 am |
  3. Robert Gray

    I'd like to see a followup report/investigation on how bullies deal with such deaths as they grow into mature adults.

    February 27, 2013 at 11:03 pm |
  4. Rich H

    I admire the work you are doing, and I am sure you will achieve your goal soon. I also wish that our legal system will start trying these bullies accordingly.....regardless of age. If a twelve-year-old is the cause of an eleven-year-old to commit suicide, that bully should spend some serious hard time behind bars, and if not, then that individual's parents should be held responsible. Something needs to be done YESTERDAY!!

    February 27, 2013 at 2:05 pm |
    • Sarah

      Why should the parents be held responsible? You can teach and teach and teach and kid but if you're not with them 24/7, you can't control what they do.

      February 28, 2013 at 4:45 pm |
  5. Lisa

    He was just at my daughter's high school a week or so ago here in NE. She was very moved by his story as my daughter has and still is a victim of bullying at school. I wish there was more that can be done, but it takes the parents of those who are the bullys to step up and discipline their children otherwise they don't care what happens to them at school.

    February 27, 2013 at 1:58 pm |
    • Crystal

      Lisa, I am a 52-year-old woman who was bullied in middle school and high school. I came up with a plan of action in case this happened to one of my kids and it was this: I would meet with the school and demand a formal letter of complaint to the parents, under the condition that I will not file a lawsuit against BOTH the school and the parents of the bully. I had one son who was briefly bullied, but I was able to stop it instantly. I know this won’t always work, but $$$ talks.

      February 27, 2013 at 9:57 pm |
  6. Lupe

    The sad part is it does not stop after we are done with school. Bullies are at work and families (in-laws). Adults get bullied and it still hurts as adults. I hope all the bullies one day understand that NO ONE for the reason that WE are ALL humans with feelings know that the pain remains for a VERY long time and NO BODY deserves to be treated like this. I can just imagine what the parents are feeling. He was really in pain to have the courage to do something some of us just think about but cannot do.

    February 27, 2013 at 9:20 am |
  7. Tracy

    You are a hero for parents everywhere. Thank you.

    February 27, 2013 at 8:08 am |
  8. Kevin Gray

    R.I.P. Beautiful kid he was too.

    I can only hope that his parents can move on, as devestating as this was/is. God bless them

    February 27, 2013 at 1:36 am |
  9. lisa Glass

    Thank you for the awesome work you are doing. As a little girl I was bullied then I turned into the bullier. For years the guilt would get to me, one day I came across one lady I bullied as a little girl & I apologized to her she said to forget it. But I told her I needed her to know how wrong to treat her as if she wasnt anybody. Now I have a neice who is being bullied at one of the junior high schools. I wish you could come to Wichita Ks to share your story. I am sorry for your loss. May God continue to give you and your family the strength to keep on keeping on.

    February 26, 2013 at 8:22 pm |
  10. Catherine

    Sounds like his parents are totally emotionally clueless. His mother's idea of parenting is putting this boy to work when he is at his lowest? Poor kid killed himself because he was an 11 year old having to deal with an adult situation BY HIMSELF. He had two adults in his life who could have loved him, comforted him, and come up with an action plan. Instead, they ignored the situation...and put the 11 year old to work. That was the worst time to procrastinate.

    February 26, 2013 at 8:14 pm |
    • ANNA D

      I have an 11 year old boy and could not imagine this. I wish the best for this family

      February 27, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
  11. Selendis

    I can't imagine the pain and suffering this family lives with. I hope that through their devotion to their cause they find peace.

    February 26, 2013 at 8:02 pm |
  12. ashley goolsby

    i think thats just amazing that u n ur wife can be soo strong an able to help prevent others from suffren the same loose ......
    yall will be well none for bein strong an helping prevent bulling ....
    witch i think that is awsome !!
    i send much love .. sorry for ur lose !!

    February 26, 2013 at 7:59 pm |
  13. Andrey

    No only did the poor boy's parents utterly fail to teach him how to stand up for himself, but they offered the poor kid only punishment instead of support when he finally snapped after having enough.

    No wonder he committed suicide after going through hell for two years just to have his own parents do nothing except totally stab him in the back when he needed them the most.

    February 26, 2013 at 6:48 pm |
    • Trevor

      Punish him? Homework and chores are not punishment. I do agree that Mother should have dealt with the situation immeidately, but we don't know how she dealt with it the past two years.

      February 27, 2013 at 10:14 am |
    • John

      Where did it say they punished him? She told him to do "his chores" and tat they would discuss it when she got home. I see nothing abusive there. Most kids have daily chores to do and the mother probably had to get right back to work after picking him up and planned on discussing it in detail when she got home. Who would ever imagine that their child would commit suicide. In fact, most suicides come as a complete shock to the family. My condolences.

      February 27, 2013 at 10:22 am |
  14. Rocio

    I sympathize with you and I am so sorry for your lost. I know exactly what you mean when you say " we don’t want another family to live our nightmare". I do not want any parents to go through this. Bullied for 2 1/2 years starting in grade 1 left my son with a big emotional and psychological scarf that took him 4 years to recover from. My son is 12 now, safe and alive. He is finally ready to live like a normal kid.

    February 26, 2013 at 6:47 pm |
  15. Cheryl rock

    Proud of this father for doing this...we must stop the bullying!!!

    February 26, 2013 at 6:31 pm |
  16. Derrick Haimraj

    I think Kirk is doing something good ,but when he is dead the work must continue to go on,or every school have to get a small police outpost permanently attach to the schools,because the school children them need protection,because their parents does pay tax,plese send police at the schools or start flogging the bullies.

    February 26, 2013 at 6:20 pm |
  17. Jan

    My take from Kirk's story is that the bullying was only part of what lead to his suicide. The other part was feeling helplessly alone, abandoned and betrayed by adults and authorities who both failed to protect him and then punished him when he finally lashed out. For all we know, in his own mind, he thought the talking about the incident & suspension he was going to get when his parents got home was going to be them adding their attack on him for what he knew to be misbehavior yet the only way he knew to respond to his situation. It's the combination of the actual bullying with the societal response to that bullying that together determine its effect.

    February 26, 2013 at 5:35 pm |
  18. Rubin

    God bless you for what you're doing. May your son rest in peace

    February 26, 2013 at 5:22 pm |
  19. Tom B

    All I know is this type of story I hope is the last I ever see. Kirk keep the faith, I talked to my kids on how's there is always 2 sides to a story. In this story, never bully a kid and speak up for those that cant. The other side is if you get on the wrong side of a bully and become their victim, our family will be there for you.

    I really believe my kids would be like the one in the commercials to stand up for someone getting bullied, I really do.

    One day I hope to talk about all the fantastic people out there instead of survival talks like these. One day.

    February 26, 2013 at 4:47 pm |