A 12-year-old Pennsylvania boy committed suicide after being bullied and stabbed with pencils by fellow students.
Evan Ziemniak took his own life March 23 following what family members said was an ongoing issue with bullying at his school. Evan's grandmother, Debbie Long, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that her grandson was pushed, shoved, and stabbed with pencils on the school bus.
Committing suicide, grandmother Diana Ziemniak said, "was his response to stop the pain."
"This isn’t a kid from a broken home. This isn’t a kid who is on the streets at night," great-uncle Bill Costantini said. "How does it come to this?"
According to reports, hundreds of fellow students and their parents attended a prayer vigil at West Allegheny Middle School, with respites being paid by teachers, students, guidance counselors, district officials, police officers and members of the school board. During his funeral, Evan's sister left him a note that read, "You were the best brother ever. Love, Ava."
"[We are] ultimately shocked and saddened beyond comprehension. 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,” Diana Ziemniak said.
Evan's father, Matt, said in an email to the Post-Gazette that the issue of bullying in the school came to a head with his son's death and that the story would become bigger than just in Evan's district.
I will tell you that this story will eventually become bigger than just West Allegheny School District. 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.
Ziemniak's death came just two months after an anti-bullying workshop implemented in the district was deemed insensitive by parents. The Kindness Workshop involved several anti-bullying activities that reportedly had students in tears and many parents thought were ineffective.
"I think there are unintended consequences, and those consequences could have been potentially avoided had we vetted the questions, and planned the workshop with parents," Superintendent Dr. Jerri Lippert told WTAE at the time.
Following Evan's death, school director Danielle Ziegler issued a public statement on behalf of the school board, saying they'd be reviewing their anti-bullying policies:
We’d like to extend our deepest heartfelt sympathies for our neighboring district West Allegheny. Last week, a sixth-grade student at West A committed suicide. There has been probable discussion and concern as to whether or not bullying may have been a contributing factor. While we’ll never know the answer to that, in this case, we do know that bullying has become an epidemic in school districts across the country.