Alex’s Death By “The Choking Game”

A 13-year-old Westport boy named Alex died in August. His obituary called him

a joyous, singular soul, fearless explorer, adventurous spirit, fiery and sensitive, impulsive tinkerer, brilliant mathematician, science Olympian, voracious fantasy reader, Clash of Clans addict, ocean lover, prodigious builder of all things, and reluctant paddle board champion…

His blazing smile lit the way. His death devastates those he touched, yet our hearts overflow with the utmost pride in his life – in his intelligence, his wit, his energy, his beauty, and his unwavering faith in his ideas.

His obituary did not reveal the cause of death. It was “the choking game” — an activity popular among 9- to 16-year-olds. They strangle themselves or each other to get high. The most common reported age of death is 13.

Alex, age 13.

Alex, age 13.

Many are just like Alex: intelligent, from loving families. They view “the choking game” as an alternative to alcohol or drugs.

But the “game” can be addictive. And — as with other addictions — kids can do it secretly, on their own.

That information — much of it new to me — came from a long story posted on Salon. Called “Death by the Choking Game,” it explores Alex’s life and death.

gaspTo increase awareness of this dangerous, insidious “game,” Alex’s family shared with the author — a writer from Virginia who is Alex’s mother’s best friend — intimate details of his secret life, and the harrowing story of the day he died.

It’s terrible, and awful. It’s also a must-read.

The story ends:

The thing that haunts Susan now is realizing that if she had known about the Choking Game, she might have realized Alex was in danger. The warning signs of the Choking Game include bloodshot eyes; frequent headaches; marks on the neck; ropes, scarves, and belts found knotted in kids’ rooms and bathrooms and the unexplained presence of things like dog leashes, choke collars and bungee cords.

Susan had noticed some these things in the six months or so prior to his death, but not knowing about the Choking Game, had dismissed them. Alex had headaches and a bloodshot eye, but what kid doesn’t? And during the summer, he’d had many broken blood vessels under the skin on his face, but wasn’t that just a side effect of acne? And she’d asked about the marks on the neck — a two-inch thin mark around his neck back in the spring and a scab mark earlier in the summer — but when Alex shrugged them off, she figured they must be byproducts of her sons’ frequent roughhousing.

Taken individually, each of these signs seemed innocuous, but taken together, if she’d heard of this game before, even in passing, she might have figured it out. She would have confronted him. Educated him of the dangers. Become one of those helicopter moms we all make fun of. Whatever it took to get him to stop….

It’s been two months since Alex died. Zach has started middle school, and when new friends ask him if he has any brothers or sisters, he doesn’t know how to answer. Susan can’t do laundry because she can’t go down to the basement, can’t even look at a spiral staircase in someone else’s house.

They’re looking for a new house — something smaller, with more kids on the neighborhood streets for Zach to play with. Susan worries about finding the right balance with Zach — if he’s out of eyesight, she panics about where he is, what he could be doing, but she also worries that she might end up smothering him if she doesn’t give him independence.

It’s hard for her to talk about this, to email and write Facebook posts to raise awareness over the Choking Game, to urge her friends to look up a Choking Game video and report it as dangerous and get it taken down. But she does, hoping that maybe she’ll reach one parent or teacher who’ll see the warning signs before it’s too late.

(Click here to read the full Salon article. For more information on the Choking Game, visit www.gaspinfo.com and www.erikscause.org.)

8 responses to “Alex’s Death By “The Choking Game”

  1. Cliff Montagna

    Thank you for this article and information. Our hearts go out to you Susan and your family. As I write this I think of my 7 year son and I cannot imagine your pain. Please know that as a community we are thinking of you and sending you healing thoughts.

  2. Eric William Buchroeder SHS '70

    This brings back a conversation I had with my Westport mother in ’83. I had moved to Chicago five years earlier and she was telling me that a child in Westport had died from this “game” and that apparently it was “all the rage” among Westport teenagers in ’83. I was, to say the least, horrified. I had never heard of anything like this except in the Kiefer Sutherland movie “Flatliners” where med students asphyxiate themselves to see how far they can go and still be brought back. I am so sorry for this family’s loss and wish to express admiration (once again) to coach and mentor to children and the community Dan Woog for highlighting what has apparently been going on for over 30 years. Hug your children as often as you can and then do it one more time.

  3. Thank you, Susan for sharing your heartbreaking story and this powerful information. We lift you and your family up in prayer for comfort, healing and strength and hoping it will help prevent other children from playing this awful game and alert adults to the warning signs.

  4. robert fatherley

    Dear Dan,

    You are again a blessing.  I knew about this but thought it respectful to the parents not to discuss it.  

    Thank you for putting it out there…..Julie Fatherley 

  5. Dan:

    How incredibly sad that this gifted boy got caught up in this luinacy. I feel awful for his family.
    Thank you for urging all families to confront this head on.

  6. Dan, thank you for raising awareness. I have seen today’s blog post reposted to several Facebook walls, and the accompanying commentary resounds gratitude and hope that this family’s heartbreak will at least serve as a clarion call, helping to prevent other tragic losses.

    I, for one, did not know that this “game” existed. To read another commentator suggest that this risky behavior has been out there (and indeed, here, in Westport) for thirty or more years — a threat to our children masked as a “game: — is horrifying.

    There has already been a very frank discussion with the children in this household, and I plan to delve further into the resources that were posted, so that I can become better informed and help my kids develop strategies if they should ever face the temptation to play such a “game. ”

    Susan and family, thank you for finding the strength and perspective to share Alex’s story.

    Thank you, Dan, for picking up the mantle and encouraging us to know more and do better for our kids.

  7. It’s important for everyone to be aware of this-it happens everywhere-even in rural areas.

  8. thanks for your share and so sad for your loss!
    these so-called “games” have such horrible consequences to all, and reveal so little to answer to “the why!”
    it is soooo., and toooo. vital to all to get informed of the evils that are put out there! the kids know and the parents are zoned out, or don’t wish to know and confront these issues at the appropriate ages in which they occur!
    parents need to put their kids needs first, and get their heads out of the sand!!!
    you can’t undo!