Regardless of the exact situation, some parents can easily tell when something’s wrong with their child. Deirdre Fell-O’Brien will certainly attest to that, as she noticed a dramatic change in her son’s behavior in 2017. After pressing him for an explanation, however, the mom was left heartbroken by his response.
A resident of Garden City, New York, Deirdre and her husband Keith are the proud parents of five children: Darby, Liam, Jacinta, Muireann and Jonjo. In 2016 Liam started seventh grade at Garden City Middle School and showed a real passion for one sport in particular.
Indeed, Liam was a keen soccer player, with that drive eventually earning him a place on the school team. Heading into seventh grade, then, the youngster was very active, going out on his bike to meet up with his pals in the neighborhood. In addition, Deirdre’s son also had a healthy appetite.
However, the mom-of-five started to notice a slight change in Liam as the year came to an end. “One chilly winter afternoon, Liam handed me his cell phone and told me he didn’t want it anymore,” Deirdre wrote on health website The Well in September 2018. “I asked why, but he brushed off my inquiry with a shrug and slunk back to his room, closing the door behind him.”
Following a brief moment of confusion, Deirdre put the phone away, but as time went on she started to notice some other unusual changes in her son. Indeed, Liam was no longer going out to see his friends, with his bike now a permanent fixture in the family’s garage. That wasn’t the biggest concern, though.
At the end of the school year, Liam took part in some soccer trials, earning a place in the team. But then something changed. “Liam didn’t pick up [his] soccer ball for the rest of the summer,” Deirdre wrote on Facebook in October 2017. “I was so confused.” Unfortunately, the issues didn’t end there.
Liam spent some time in Saratoga, New York, with his dad in July 2017, but Keith began to notice another very worrying change in his son. “While he was there, my husband said Liam is not eating like he used to,” Deirdre continued. “When he came home, I noticed the weight loss. He started to eat just one meal a day.”
Understandably concerned, Deirdre tried to coax an explanation out of her son, as he continued to lose weight. When Liam insisted that he was ok, she then made a decision. “I took him to the doctor, and he had lost about 10 pounds since June,” the mom wrote on Facebook.
With that in mind, Liam was taken to Cohen Children’s Hospital a short time later, spending just over a week at the facility. At that point, the start of the new school year was fast approaching, but Keith and Deirdre were still worried about their son’s condition. “We contacted guidance at the school,” the dad told ABC News in October 2017.
“We said, ‘Can you please look out for [Liam]?’ and they assured us everything will be fine,” Keith continued. “He started school on the Tuesday, and his birthday was that Friday, September, 8. And that day, he came home, and he had a big bruise on his face. We asked him what happened, he said, ‘Oh, I tripped, I fell down the stairs.’”
Liam’s weight dropped by another 5 pounds over those few days, which led to a very tough conversation with his mother in the family’s kitchen. Desperate for some answers, Deirdre pressed him and finally made a breakthrough. Her son’s response left her emotionally devastated, however.
“[Liam] told me he was bullied terribly in seventh grade,” Deirdre wrote on Facebook. “It started when he made the soccer team. Two kids told him he sucked and shouldn’t have made the team. There were unnecessary pushes and kicks. He was told he was weird, he was fat, his freckles were weird, his eyebrows were weird.”
“They used horrible language and called him nasty words,” Deirdre continued. “I asked him how often it happened. He looked at me crying and said, ‘Every day Mom.’ They broke him, he believed he was no good and stopped playing soccer because it just reminded him of them.”
As they continued to talk, Liam also revealed the true cause of the bruise on his face. “He was putting his lock on his gym locker, and a boy came and pushed his face against the locker,” Deirdre wrote. “He was alone in the locker room. There are no monitors in the gym locker room.”
Liam was subsequently taken back to the hospital the following day before being moved to another facility in New Jersey. “Basically, the diagnosis was eating disorder and depression that was brought on by continuous bullying,” Keith told ABC News. At that point, the school launched an investigation as a result of the youngster’s claims.
Deirdre was left furious with the outcome, though, as the school claimed that Liam’s story was “unfounded.” With that in mind, the mom then took to Facebook, detailing her son’s ordeal in a lengthy post. However, not even she could have predicted what would happen next.
Deirdre’s passionate words went viral, in fact, with the post earning over 4,000 likes and more than 2,500 shares. The story also generated in excess of 1,000 comments, as online users showed their support for Liam and his family. The outpouring of goodwill didn’t end there, though.
As Deirdre’s Facebook post continued to pick up steam, a new hashtag emerged. #WeStandWithLiam saw members of the local community showing their support to the youngster with shirts, signs and even bumper stickers displaying the slogan. Incredibly, the hashtag also made its way to Times Square, as Nasdaq featured it on their billboard.
Meanwhile, Liam finally returned to his family after more than two months in hospital, insisting that he wanted to go back to Garden City Middle School. “When I dropped him off that first day, my jittery nerves turned to overwhelming pride as I watched my son confidently walk right through the front doors,” Deirdre wrote on The Well. “He even finished out the soccer season.”
On that note, Deirdre provided one last positive update. “[Liam] is currently taking medication to help manage his depression,” she continued. “He’s slowly but surely gaining weight, and he has reconnected with friends who provide much-appreciated support and camaraderie. And every day, he smiles more as he continues to work on himself and his confidence.”