Tragedy struck an Irish community after a 17-year-old boy committed suicide. The suicide was reportedly sparked by an international gang of criminals who cyber-bullied the boy.
Ronan Hughes, 17, of Co Tyrone, Northern Ireland, took his own life on Friday, June 5, after a fake Facebook account was set up to extort and blackmail the teen, the Mirror reported.
According to a letter sent out to students at St. Joseph’s Primary School, Principal Stephen Magennis stated that the Facebook account had been set up in another country in order to trick the teenager to give up his personal information as well as money to the criminals, the Belfast Telegraph noted.
“Ronan was the victim of ruthless, faceless people,” Magennis wrote, “intent on first befriending him and luring him into giving personal information and then sharing images that were used to threaten him in an attempt to extort money.
“This was not anyone from the school or the local area,” he continued. “The police are sure this was an international gang of criminals, from a foreign country who prey on innocent young people throughout the world.”
According to Magennis, Hughes helped other students in his community in his spare time, volunteering at the Reading Support Program.
“They had set up a fake Facebook page pretending to be from our country to trick and deceive Ronan,” he said. "His tragic death is a reminder and a warning to all parents that our children must be vigilant and very careful when using the internet."
Magennis warned parents, saying: "We must not be complacent nor naive as parents. We need to advise our children about staying safe online and monitor what they are doing, saying, writing and sharing online.
"Ronan's death is a cold reminder of the fragility of life and how precious are children are to us," he added. "We need to be protective of them and proactive to give them the ability to make informed decisions."
Ronan had told his parents about the cyber-bullying before his death, BelfastLive reported. The incident had also been reported to police.
Hundreds showed up to the teenager’s funeral. Father Benny Fee spoke at the burial, saying, "Ronan did not take his own life but his life was taken from him, and somewhere in the world, maybe far, far away from Clonoe, is a man, a woman or a gang who are guilty of a heinous crime."
“People took advantage of his youth and his beauty," Fee continued. "They exploited him and they broke him. And if they could do it to him, they could do it to anyone. May God forgive them.”
Ronan's family reportedly plans to launch a campaign aimed to preventing a similar tragedy. Details of the online safety campaign will be unveiled in the upcoming weeks, according to the Belfast Telegraph.
Superintendent Mike Baird, from the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) issued suggestions of how to avoid similar online scams.
Here are his tips, courtesy of BelfastLive:
• Don’t share personal information or images with people you don’t know;
• Don’t accept friend requests with someone you don’t know;
• Set your privacy settings on all devices;
• Don’t post anything online that you are not happy to be shared;
• If someone has made you feel uncomfortable or you have had disturbing interaction online, tell someone you trust.
Photo Credit: BelfastLive, Facebook