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Kirk and Laura Smalley,

Kirk Smalley (right) and his wife Laura of Perkins, Okla., listen at the Conference on Bullying Prevention in the East Room of the White House in Washington on March 10, 2011. Smalley's 11-year-old son Ty committed suicide after reportedly being bullied at school. (AP file photo)

Associated Press file photo

Ty Smalley was little for his age.

Kids at school pounced on that. They called him "Shrimp" and "Tiny Tim." They crammed him in lockers, shoved him into trash cans and poured chocolate milk over his head.

And Ty would just walk away.

But on May 13, 2010, Ty stood up for himself. Cornered in the school gymnasium, he pushed back after his tormenter pushed first.

Both boys were sent to the school office. Each was suspended for three days.

Ty went home and killed himself. His bully was allowed back in school the next day.

In the 20 months since Kirk and Laura Smalley buried their 11-year-old son, the Oklahoma couple has spent nearly every day talking with kids, parents, teachers and anyone else who will listen about Ty, his torment and his suicide.

The Smalleys call it "bully-cide." Ty didn't kill himself because he hated his life. He killed himself because he couldn't take the bullying.

"When we have to invent a word because it's so prevalent, we should know there is a very big problem," Kirk Smalley said in a phone interview from the road somewhere in Georgia. They had just finished one presentation and were on their way to the next city to share their heartbreaking story.

They will be in Lincoln on Thursday to present a public lecture at 7 p.m. at the BryanLGH College of Health Sciences, 5035 Everett St. It's one of more than a dozen stops they will make during a 10-day tour across Nebraska.

"We do this every day. All day," Kirk said. "We are in two to four schools a day."

At last count, they have been to 374 schools and talked to 550,000 kids.

They do it for Ty and kids like him. They also do it for the bullies -- kids who think their teasing, name-calling and humiliating is harmless fun. They need to understand it is not.

One out of every four children is bullied, Kirk said, citing U.S. Justice Department figures. At least two children are bullied every seven minutes. Twenty-five percent of the kids in the United States not only think about suicide but have a plan before they get out of high school, he said.

"In February, Oklahoma lost eight babies to suicide because of bullying," Kirk said. "Eight babies in one state, in one month."

It's gotta stop. People gotta realize the toll of bullying, he said.

So Kirk and Laura stand before crowds of young faces, looking into the eyes of jocks, geeks, nerds, popular kids and outcasts. They talk about how their happy-go-lucky, shaggy-haired son loved life. How when he was 9, kids in elementary school targeted him with taunts. How he finally shared his pain with his parents.

"His momma worked at the school he went to," Kirk said. "She was up there every single day complaining and trying to make it stop. She was told, 'Boys will be boys' and 'Bullying is a rite of passage.'

"Why?" Kirk asked. "Because we allow it to be that way. We can stop it. We can change that."

Sixty-eight students at Oklahoma State University were so saddened by Ty's suicide that they created a Facebook page in his honor: Stand For The Silent. It is now an international movement. People in Australia, the United Kingdom and India are standing up trying to make it stop, Kirk said.

"These babies are tired of it. If they are not victims and are not bullies, they have seen it. They feel bad. 'Why didn't I say something or do something?' We give them an option: Here's what you can do, Here's what you can say. Here is how you can help. All we ask is that you do something."

Kirk and Laura talk to students like young people -- not children. They tell kids about Ty and the day he took his life.

"We tell them someone could have made a difference. One of his friends could have stood up (for him) and it would have made all the difference in the world. We tell them you can change a life, change the world and be somebody else's hero."

The Smalleys believe they are making a difference.

"Schools tell us you would not believe in the change in the hallways. Big burly football players are crying and hugging each other and apologizing for the way they have treated one another," Kirk said.

"We literally get hundreds of messages via texts and email. We get thank yous from the victims. We get letters from bullies saying I didn't realize what my actions could cause. They say: I want to help you make it stop. And they confess: I am trying, but sometimes I still mess up."

The hardest audience to reach are the parents and school leaders. Documenting bullying is a paperwork nightmare and a judgment call. In Ty's case, in spite of the fact that his mother complained about the bullying so often that the school threatened to fire her, not one piece of paper in Ty's school file indicated he had ever been bullied, Kirk said.

"We need documentation and a paper trail. We need accountability," he said.

If we hold kids accountable when they smack someone on the street, why not hold them accountable for assault at school, he asks. If we hold parents accountable when their kids skip school, why not hold them accountable when their kids bully another child?

"Bullying is a learned behavior," Kirk says. "We can unlearn it."

Reach Erin Andersen at 402-473-7217 or eandersen@journalstar.com.

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