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Suicide of 12-year-old boy followed bullying

New York Daily News New York Daily News 5/04/2016 TOBIAS SALINGER
Evan Ziemniak © Facebook Evan Ziemniak

Warning: This article deals with suicide and may be distressing for some readers. Readers who may need help are urged to call Lifeline on 0800 543 354 or (09) 522 2999.

The suicide of a bullied 12-year-old Pittsburgh-area boy “was his response to stop the pain,” his grandmother said Tuesday.

Evan Ziemniak hanged himself March 23 and staff at St. Clair Hospital pronounced him dead at 6:41 p.m., according to the Allegheny County, Pa., Medical Examiners Office.

The sixth-grader’s tragic death happened after his classmates at West Allegheny Middle School subjected him to months of pushing, shoving and stabbing with their pencils aboard the school’s bus, one of his grandparents told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“I will tell you that this story will eventually become bigger than just West Allegheny School District,” the boy’s father, Matt Ziemniak told the newspaper in an email. “The implications are more far-reaching and the issues that need to be discussed and addressed are not unique to our school district. Dana and I are prepared to do what is necessary to make sure other parents do not have to face the worst tragedy a parent could ever face.”

Evan’s parents had alerted school officials several times about bullying by other middle schoolers both at school and on the bus. The district started its “safe and supportive school program” in early March in an overhaul of its anti-bullying efforts.

A representative for the district didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment Monday afternoon. The district provided the Post-Gazette with a statement about Evan’s passing, noting officials have arranged for crisis intervention counseling.

“The West Allegheny School Board, superintendent, administration and staff are deeply saddened by the news, and we extend our heartfelt condolences and sympathy to the family,” school district officials said. “They are in our hearts, thoughts and prayers.”

Hundreds of people from suburban Findlay, North Fayette and Oakdale attended a prayer walk at the school in Evan’s honor March 26. His funeral March 30 in Oakdale drew students, faculty and several officers from the North Fayette Township Police Department.

The boy loved his pet cats and rabbits, collected coins and old video game consoles and enjoyed learning about the Civil War. His suicide “was his response to stop the pain,” his grandmother Diana Ziemniak told the Post-Gazette.

The boy’s family and friends are “ultimately shocked and saddened beyond comprehension,” she said. “This was a kid who had so much to offer. He was beyond his years, an old soul. His curiosity went so far beyond the norm.”

Tributes to Evan on the website of the Thomas-Little Funeral Service described a boy beloved by his teachers and others who knew him well.

“I work at the school and I always will remember Evan's face light up when he would talk about old electronics and history,” one person wrote. “He was so passionate about older things and I loved that about him. He has now earned wings and happy looking at all the historical things heaven has to offer.”

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