Concerned people from around the world have reached out to Liam O’Brien, the Irish American teenager who is being treated at a hospital in New Jersey for depression and an eating disorder due to the effects of daily extreme bullying in his Long Island middle school during seventh grade.
Liam’s tragic story, featured in last week’s Irish Voice, on IrishCentral, and media outlets like ABC News and the Today show’s website, still does not have a happy ending, however, as the 13-year-old remains hospitalized at a facility in Princeton, New Jersey, with no release date in sight.
His parents, Deirdre and Keith O’Brien, have retained an attorney who has filed a notice of claim against the Garden City School District, which in September said that an investigation into the bullying endured by Liam was unfounded. The claim says that the district did not provide “a safe and supportive environment free from intimidation, taunting, physical abuse, harassment and bullying on school property and/or at functions.”
On Monday, Deirdre O’Brien, a nurse at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital in Manhattan, told IrishCentral's sister publication the Irish Voice that her family felt they had no choice but to take action against the district given the number of other students who have come forth to say that they too have been bullied.
“So many people have reached out to me about similar situations, that they had made complaints and all the cases were coming back unfounded. I said that something just isn’t right here,” O’Brien said.
The least the family wants, she added, is cameras in the Garden City Middle School’s locker room, where Liam was assaulted in September by a student who pushed his face into a locker. There was no witness to the incident, and the district took no action against the perpetrator.
“If there was a camera or monitor then this wouldn’t have happened to Liam,” O’Brien said. “We’ve just got to do something. Some kind of change has to come from this.”
As reported last week, Liam’s grandfather is the New York-based thoroughbred racing trainer Liam O’Brien, a native of Dublin who has had a hugely successful career and continues to train. Deirdre O’Brien’s parents are also both natives of Ireland.
The O’Briens are parents to four other children, all of whom are missing their brother desperately. Liam is “doing a little bit better,” his mother reports, after a particularly tough time last week.
“I’ve been showing him all the coverage and all the support he’s receiving from people all over, and I think that’s helped give him a boost,” she says.
“He was able to come out with us for a few hours on Saturday so that was good. And he knows that he will be in the hospital for a while. He tells us he wants to come home, but he knows he’s not better and that he’s not ready yet.”
The treatment for the eating disorder is intense, O’Brien adds. “He didn’t have his iPad for a while because he wasn’t finishing his meals,” she says. “He knows that he really has to put his mind to things.”
There’s no indication when Liam will be returning home, and no time frame for when he will return to school. It’s highly probable that he won’t ever set foot in Garden City Middle School again, his mother says, because of the trauma he’s experienced.
“He’s been talking more about it in the hospital and it really scarred him,” O’Brien says.
Last Wednesday, the Garden City School District hosted an anti-bullying day at all of its schools. Many students wore orange t-shirts saying “We Stand With Liam,” or “Team Liam,” and bracelets were also available for kids who wanted them.
Liam was particularly touched by a letter his family received from a U.S. soldier serving in Afghanistan. The soldier wrote that he too was picked on in school and as a result, he gained 40 pounds in a year. He had sage words of advice for how Liam can emerge a stronger person.
“Use their words and actions to fuel and drive you in everything you set out to do…I have defiantly had the last laugh with all those people that said I wouldn’t make it in the army. I am in the 82nd Airborne Division as an infantryman. I jump out of planes for fun and I’m in Afghanistan right now. If I can overcome what I went thru and make it into one of the most elite units in the world…there’s no limit to what you can overcome.”
The letter is posted in full on the Instagram account we_stand_with_liam, which has amassed over 4,000 followers. The O’Briens are hugely gratified by the support, but at the end of the day all they want is their son and brother home.
“It’s Halloween and the holiday time. We will be celebrating a lot when he gets home because we miss him so much,” O’Brien says.