The tragic news which emerged last Wednesday night that 15 year old Dromahair schoolgirl Ciara Pugsley had taken her own life has left a community in deep shock and the fact that she is believed to have been “driven” to such action as a result of online bullying makes the tragedy all the sadder.
The sight of students in their school uniforms, players and officials from the Leitrim Ladies football community, the Dromahair ladies football team as well as members of the equestrian, sub aqua and karate clubs, of which she was a member, gave an indication of how popular and well regarded Ciara Pugsley was.
Speaking at Ciara’s removal in St Patrick’s Church, Fr John McTiernan, addressed the many young people in attendance and stressed that suicide is never the answer. He spoke about the importance of helping one another and for those with problems to never be afraid to speak up or seek help. He also addressed the issue of cyber bullying, suggesting those with nothing positive to say should instead remain silent.
The website on which Ciara was taunted by other users - ask.fm - is registered in Latvia and allows users to ask questions anonymously with Ciara being taunted by various posters. One of the final questions asked on Ciara’s page was ‘Whats been up with u’ to which she poignantly replied, ‘U’ll see soon!’
On the site’s terms of service it states: “you will not, directly or indirectly, transmit any obscene, offensive, threatening, harassing, libelous, hate-oriented, harmful, defamatory, racist, illegal or otherwise objectionable material or content.” Attempts to contact ask.fm for a comment have proved unsuccessful.
The issue of online bullying was also addressed by family friend Eugene O’Neill when he addressed the funeral mass on Sunday afternoon. Speaking as a parent and a friend Mr O’Neill spoke about Ciara’s achievements in various sporting codes noting, “Ciara also did a lifesaving course. She valued her life and wanted to be a saver of lives.”
Continuing his address Mr O’Neill stressed, “Ciara did not want to die. She enjoyed living and had so much more living to do. She was driven to it. She was driven to it by this appalling evil that has invaded our community. Internet bullying attacks our young most vulnerable people 24-7. They cannot get away from it. I appeal to those involved in this dreadful activity to see the devastating consequences of their malicious comments here today.
“We are witnessing an epidemic of the tragic deaths of our young people. It must not be allowed to continue. Last week we saw the publication of the wording for the Children’s Referendum coming up in November. While this is to be welcomed, no additional articles in our Constitution can truly safeguard our children until we halt this senseless waste of the best resource our country has in our young people.
“I ask the Gardai and the Department of Justice to do everything in their power to bring an end to the abuse that our children are exposed to from their peers through social media. No more lives should be lost.”
Addressing the younger members of the congregation Mr O’Neill urged them not to consider ending their own life, no matter how bad they may be feeling.
“As a parent I appeal to all you young people here today to remain strong and to resist any temptation to follow the path chosen by Ciara. It is not a solution. Look around you and see the shattered family she has left behind. Your dark moment will pass and your life can get better. Life is precious and must not be ended recklessly.”
The staff and pupils of St Clare’s Comprehensive School are coming to terms with the loss of a valued friend and student in such a manner for the second time in a matter of months and in a statement issued to the Leitrim Observer, school principal John Irwin said, “We are deeply saddened by the death of one of our Transition Year students, Ciara Pugsley. Our thoughts and prayers are with Ciara’s family and friends.
“Ciara was a valued and popular member of our school community and a talented sports person. Offers of support have been pouring in and are greatly appreciated. The staff are helping the students to deal with the tragic event and support is being provided by NEPS and the HSE. At this time it is important that there is sensitivity to the family’s grief and we respect their need for privacy.”
Speaking at Ciara’s removal, Fr McTiernan paid tribute to the work being done, under extremely difficult circumstances, by Mr Irwin and the teachers in St Clare’s Comprehensive School adding, “Sometimes the carers need to be cared for.”
At last Monday’s monthly meeting of Leitrim VEC a motion of sympathy was passed and a minute’s silence was observed in memory of Ciara. Cllr John McTernan said, “Ciara’s death was a “huge tragedy” that has sent “shock waves over all of North Leitrim.” He raised concerns about the interaction of many teenagers with such sites as Facebook and ask.fm. He called on “Leitrim VEC to insure our School Principals are aware of the dangers of these websites which can allow abuse of people and the perpetrators of such abuse can remain anonymous.”
Acting Principal of Drumshanbo VS, Sean Wynne voiced his concern that “there is no traceability of material put up” on social media sites. He said what is posted on the sites “can have far reaching effects.” Members of Leitrim VEC asked Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte for more online regulation.
Acting CEO of Leitrim VEC, Martin Fallon said that if they shut down ask.fm, another one will pop up and children need to be informed about it at home. The VEC heard there is counselling available for all students who need it.
The popular website, dromahairdiary.blogspot.co.uk, posted an article on Monday last describing the sense of grief, shock and loss felt in Dromahair and has sought suggestions on how the community can best respond to the tragedy of Ciara’s death.
In the blog the author stated, “As a community we have to pull together for the benefit of our next generation. We owe it to the memory of Ciara Pugsley and to our own beloved children. We simply cannot skirt the issues of cyber-bullying and teenage suicide. The stakes are too high.”
As a mark of respect the Ladies Minor Final which was scheduled to take place on Saturday afternoon between Dromahair and Ballinamore was postponed while Cinema North West also cancelled the events that had been scheduled for last week to coincide with Culture Night and they will be rescheduled at a later date.
Over the past week tributes have been paid to Ciara by her friends on Facebook, while a youtube video, comprising pictures of Ciara accompanied by the song ‘Friends Forever’ was uploaded and has attracted in excess of 45,000 views with comments posted from those who knew her closely as well as people all over the world who have been struck by this tragic story. Similarly tribute pages have been set up on Facebook with thousands of people expressing their sympathy and offering their support to Ciara’s heartbroken parents Aggie and Jonathan, her siblings Daniel and Abigail, and her large circle of friends.