‘Choking game’ prevalent, Internet blamed for rise in popularity | TheUnion.com

‘Choking game’ prevalent, Internet blamed for rise in popularity

As Amie Thompson reported on the death of 12-year-old Sam LaCroix, a Missoula, Mont., sixth-grader, she quickly learned the deadly game that led to his demise was not as much of an oddity as it first had seemed.

Thompson, a reporter with the Great Falls Tribune in Montana, was writing a follow-up story last week to LaCroix’s 2008 death, when she took a quick poll of the newsroom to see how many of her colleagues had heard of the “choking game.”

“I had remembered seeing something on one of those TV magazine shows about it, but it was just a vague memory on it,” Thompson said by phone Tuesday. “As I did my reporting I was shocked to learn the number of people in the newsroom who had done this when they were kids.”

And apparently, kids are still doing it, as a quick Internet search confirmed:

Fourteen-year-old Gabriel Mordecai of Paradise died in 2005. Twelve-year-old Santa Monica sixth grader Erik Robinson died in April of this year. And 14-year-old Angelena Ohanessian and 15-year-old Rebekah Toia – both of the northwest Chicago area – died two weeks apart in August.

The “Choking game,” also known as “Blackout,” “Passout,” “Roulette,” “Flatliner” and the “Fainting game” is what Eric and Kendall Butler believe caused the death of their 16-year-old son Justin, a Bear River High School junior football player who died early Monday morning.

According to GASPInfo.com, a website geared to raise awareness of the dangers of the practice, an estimated 250 to 1,000 deaths are a result of the “game,” which involves restricting oxygen and blood from the brain to create a euphoric or “warm and fuzzy” feeling.

But the dark side to the high can be strokes, seizures, heart attacks, brain damage and death.

In 2007, Kirsten Pabst, a Missoula, Mont., district attorney, discovered her 12-year-old son, Sam LaCroix, unconscious hanging from a belt attached to a rod in the closet of his bedroom.

After his death, the possibility of Sam having committed suicide just didn’t add up, she said, knowing her son to be a happy boy who had just finished his homework before apparently playing the deadly game.

“What I learned in my research is that you don’t have any statistical evidence on this, how many this has happened to, because a huge percentage of young kids and adults have been determined to be suicides, but they’re not,” Pabst said in a phone interview.

Pabst says her son died after looking at websites relating to the choking game and then played by himself. She now wants to find a lawyer willing to file a lawsuit against YouTube.com to force the company to screen dangerous videos directed at children.

She believes the Internet has made the “game” more prevalent.

“Ideally, in a perfect world, I’d get enough backing to force YouTube to hire a screener, which is what Craig’s List was forced to do,” she said. “That’s my goal. I’d just like them to screen out the stuff that targets kids.”

A prepared statement from a YouTube.com spokesperson said the site counts on its users to “flag” such inappropriate content.

“All videos uploaded to YouTube must comply with our Community Guidelines,” spokesperson Abbi Tatton stated. “The guidelines prohibit content that’s intended to encourage dangerous, illegal activities that have an inherent risk of serious physical harm or death.

“We count on our community members to know the community guidelines and to flag content they believe violates the rules. We review all flagged videos quickly, and if we find that they violate our policies, we take them down. We also age-restrict content that has been identified by our policy enforcement team as content that, while not violating our guidelines, contains acts capable of being copied by minors that is not suitable for users under the age of 18.”

Contact Sports Editor Brian Hamilton, e-mail bhamilton@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4240.

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