News 5 Investigates

Apr 24, 2014 10:41 PM by Eric Ross

News 5 Investigates: Raising awareness about a deadly game being played among teens

It's called the choking game---giving kids a "high" without drugs or alcohol. The game isn't new, but it's happening so often, doctors are concerned about the growing epidemic.

The videos are all over the internet. You can see kids laughing and joking around after regaining consciousness from playing the game with friends. What you don't see on YouTube and Vimeo is what could happen, and has happened to families who now have to mourn over the loss of a loved one.

"The pain is indescribable," Kristina Field said. "Your world is shattered."

Fields is heartbroken over the game she believes took her son, Luie's life.

"Every morning I made sure I got a hug and a kiss from Luie," Fields said. "I told him to make good choices and to have a good day (at school)."

Little did she know, February 14, 2014 would be the last time she would see her son. That day, she got a call from Carson Middle School.

"They (the school) told me I needed to get there right away," Fields said. "They told me 9-1-1 had been called."

Kristina got in her car and rushed to Luie's school where an administrator met her out front. At that time, she could only speculate about what happened.

"Maybe he fell and hit his head," Fields said.

That was not the case at all. According to investigators, Luie was found in the school bathroom with a belt around his neck. His death was ruled a suicide, but his mother disputes that.

"None of his friends said he's ever made any comments about killing himself," Fields said. "Luie talked about the future and was a happy kid."

What happened moments before Luie's death makes Kristina 100-percent certain this was no suicide. Luie had reportedly asked a friend to go to the restroom with him.

"That (scenario) doesn't make sense," Fields said. "You're going to ask a friend to go with you to go kill yourself?"

Despite CPR, paramedics and doctors were unable to save Luie.

"No parent is ever supposed to bury her child," Fields said.

Petra Verhoeven-Jordan suffered the same tragedy. Her son, Gian-Luc died after playing the choking game inside his bedroom.

"What it has come down to is the solo act of kids trying to do this alone in their home behind closed doors," Petra said. "All those kids are in danger of dying."

Gian-Luc was just like any other kid and was active in school and sports. Now, Petra is left wondering how many times her son had played the game before it took his life.

"I lost my son and for us (my family) it is too late," Petra said. " I don't feel that anybody should go through what we went through."

Both Petra and Kristina told News 5 they had never heard of the choking game until it was too late.

However, doctors we spoke with at Memorial Hospital have heard about this game time and time again.

"A lot of kids assume it's some sort of rush they are going to get and unfortunately most of the time, they wake up with either a head injury, a concussion, broken teeth, broken nose and a headache that results from that," Dr. Gregory B. Collins said.

Doctors note there are warning signs parents should look out for.

"Bloodshot eyes, little red dots on their face, broken blood vessels, facial injuries or just acting dazed and confused are all red flags," Collins said.

The above warning signs are all things Petra is trying to educate others about. She's created a web site and is also trying to get schools across the Pikes Peak region to hold seminars and educational programs for both students and parents.

So far, she says those efforts haven't proven to be successful.

News 5 asked, "You've tried to take these presentations to school districts and what happened?"

"They just say this was an isolated incident and they don't see the need to give students the ideas of trying this," Petra said.

Kristina is upset by that response.

"The way schools look at this is that they don't want to give them the idea (of playing the game)," Kristina said. "The idea is already there for some kids. You need to let them know there are real consequences out there."

Kristina nor Petra want to play the blame game, but say more needs to be done to prevent another tragedy from happening.

"Had I had an email last year (from school), my son might still be here because I could have had an educational conversation with my son," Kristina said.

According to the CDC, nearly 90-percent of children and teens who died playing the game were between 11 and 16-years-old.

There are no accurate statistics on either a local or national spectrum indicating how many deaths resulted from children playing the choking game. This is due to the fact that these cases are often ruled as suicide.

Experts say you should talk to your children about the dangers of this game as early as sixth grade. If your children aren't comfortable discussing the subject with you, tell them it's okay to speak with a counselor or other trusted guardian.

The majority of deaths attributed to the choking game happened when the teen was alone at home, or in a bathroom.

For a link to Petra's web site designed to bring more awareness to this epidemic, log onto lucastrong.com.

News 5 asked every school district in Colorado Springs whether they had any type of educational program or curriculum warning their students about the choking game.

Below are the responses we received:

District 2: Schools talk about all risky behaviors with students through counselors. However, this is not a program dedicated solely to discussing the choking game. --Christine Lyle

District 3: D-3 is proactive in bringing awareness and education to our students, staff, parents and community about substance abuse and social issues that are potentially harmful to children.
In the past, the district has hosted community nights about relevant topics including the choking game. The district has also included this information into the DARE program. In addition, our K-12 schools are actively involved in Rachel's Challenge, a program to promote positive interactions and lifestyle in our schools. The district continually monitors student behaviors and provides intervention and and support whenever possible. ---Samantha Briggs


District 8- Carson Middle School in the Fountain-Fort Carson School District has a great reputation for being a high quality, positive environment for students, staff and parents. Every year, the school staff receive special training in how to work with military students and families and are highly recognized for the caring, welcoming approaches taken with all students. Each year, school climate surveys that provide feedback from parents, students and staff are conducted and the results have been extremely positive. Parents, including staff members, continually request to have their students attend. In fact, this year alone, 23% of the Carson Middle School population (172 students) requested to come to Carson Middle School instead of attending their neighborhood school. Recent reports have insinuated that there is a widespread "choking game" problem at Carson Middle School. This could not be further from reality. Numerous Carson Middle School parents, students and staff have been highly disappointed at these erroneous reports which paint a picture that is completely inaccurate. The District has done a thorough investigation, looking at the past five years of history and has found no evidence of there being a pervasive, widespread "choking game" issue. As a matter of fact, there has been only one reported case in the last five years (during the 2012-2013 school year) of a potential situation that may have been related to a "choking game" which took place within the school. There are numerous partnerships that have been formed to meet various needs of the Carson Middle School community. Anytime an issue arises that may require the need for mental health services, Carson Middle School, the School District and Fort Carson work jointly to provide multiple layers of support. Coordinated mental health services are made available by professionals within the Carson Middle School community which include two District onsite counselors and an onsite school psychologist, the Military Family Life Consultant (counselor) or an onsite Psychiatrist provided by the Department of the Army. Support is available, ongoing and encouraged for students and their families as the staff is made aware of concerns. The recent student death that took place at Carson Middle School has been a tragedy for our whole community. The investigation is ongoing and therefore no further information related to that incident will be available until the investigation is concluded.
Any potential mental health issues or counseling needs for any of our students are addressed between the school staff, student and the family involved and will not be made public by our District. Fountain-Fort Carson School District is extremely proud of our Carson Middle School staff, the students, their parents and the strong partnerships that have been developed with the Fort Carson military community. We are all deeply saddened by the recent tragedy that struck Carson Middle School and our District and will continue to support staff, students and parents through the grieving process.---Ty Valentine

District 11: The middle schools in D11 do address this through the character building programs they teach students (one of the programs is called Second Step and it also deals with how to handle bullying, risky behaviors and making good choices). At the elementary level, some schools address it, but they walk a fine line when being proactive and at the same time, trying not to introduce a new "game" to students who've never heard about it. At one of our elementary schools late last year, 5th grade students were caught on the playground doing the choking game. The students were talked to by the counselor and principal, and their parents were also brought in to have a talk. The parents were very supportive of the message that this "game" is very dangerous. The school sent a letter home to parents to inform them of the situation and they have not had a problem since.

District 12: No information provided. News 5 sent two emails and phone messages for Dr. Cooper.

District 20: D-20 told News 5 they discuss the dangers of the choking game in their middle schools. Petra Verhoeven-Johnson (a mother featured in this report) has spoken at an event organized for parents in D-20--Nanette Anderson

District 49: Ridgeview Elementary sent a letter home to parents earlier in the school year educating about the choking game, and an evening educational presentation was done at Falcon High School within the last couple years. These are just a few examples that student safety is one of our highest-priorities and staff are always on the lookout for behaviors that children may be involving themselves in that could be detrimental to their safety. When these issues arrive at a particular campus we take a proactive approach in educating our students and working with parents to stop the behaviors.----Matt Meister

If you have a story or issue you'd like the News 5 Guardians team to investigate or look into, email us at TheGuardians@koaa.com.

 

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