ALLEGHENY COUNTY, Pa. — When 12-year-old Evan Ziemniak died in March 2016, his parents were told he took his own life.
"It didn't make sense to either of us. There were no signs at all. There was no note," said Matt Ziemniak, Evan's father.
Evan's parents said the ruling of suicide didn't make sense to them. They spent months looking for answers before finally finding the single clue that would lead them to one: a stopwatch found in Evan's hand. It helped them reach the conclusion that Evan died playing a dangerous game known as "the choking game.”
In "the choking game," a person suffocates themselves and is supposed to stop just before losing consciousness. The act is supposed to create a feeling of euphoria. Evan's mother, Dana, took her findings to the Allegheny County Medical Examiner, speaking to him on a near-weekly basis for several months. Eventually, he agreed the evidence was strong enough to change the recorded cause of Evan's death from "suicide" to "accidental.”
"I wanted the truth to be known. I wanted everyone to know what really happened to him, especially because it could save another child from doing it," said Dana Ziemniak.
The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention report deaths from "the choking game" are hard to track, since many are ruled suicides. However, numbers for 2015 show 61 children and teenagers under age 19 died from accidental strangulation.
The Ziemniaks keep Evan close to their hearts. His fingerprint is on his father's dog tag, and his birthstone hangs from a necklace around his mother’s neck.
Their goal is simple: for other parents to be aware of the danger their child could be in.
"At least alert parents so they can talk to their children about it. We didn't have that opportunity because we had no idea about this game until it was too late," Dana said.
For more information on "the choking game" and how to discuss the risks with your children, go to