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Internet trolls devastate lives, court hears at inquest into death of teenager who took her own life

By Greg Harkin

Published 18/08/2016

Online taunts: Erin Gallagher
Online taunts: Erin Gallagher

Teenage victims of online trolls suffer "devastating" consequences, a leading child psychologist has warned.

Dr Don McDwyer was giving evidence in the inquest into the death of 13-year-old Erin Gallagher, who took her own life in October 2012 at her home in Ballybofey, Co Donegal, after being taunted on the website.

Her sister Shannon (15) took her own life 45 days later.

At the inquest in Letterkenny yesterday, the girls' mother Lorraine Gallagher told Coroner Dr Denis McCauley that on the day of her daughter's death - a Saturday - she was working at McElhinney's department store in the town. She said Erin and her son Sean James were at home and had called to the shop to have lunch with her.

Ms Gallagher said Erin and her son had been laughing and joking with her and had stayed until about 3pm before walking to their home on the Silverwood estate. When she returned home just after 6pm, she noticed the house was in darkness except for a light coming from the TV.

As she walked into the hallway she saw her son sitting beside Erin.

"Sean James said to me, 'It's OK, Erin's just sleeping mummy'," said Ms Gallagher. "I realised something was wrong; that Erin had hanged herself."

Finn Valley College principal Alan Thompson said the school had become aware of online bullying on September 10, seven weeks before the girl's death.

"This had left her feeling upset," said Mr Thompson. A number of other incidents followed.

Dr McDwyer, child psychologist with the Irish health service, said he had been told of a previous attempt by Erin to take her own life on September 21.

Erin was assessed and her main complaint was about bullying on social media.

She had been due to have a review on November 1, but had died four days earlier.

Dr McDwyer said attacks on young people online can be "sudden and devastating".

He told the inquest: "Victims can feel overwhelmed and isolated and their self-esteem is undermined.

"The consequences can be devastating and a young person can go to pieces very quickly."

If you are affected by any of the issues in this article, contact the Samaritans on 084 5790 9090, or Lifeline (080 8808 8000)

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