Grieving parents sound choking game alarm

Also: Choking game warning signs parents need to know
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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With the belief that their son died in a tragic choking-game accident, Justin Butler’s parents said Wednesday they want to help spread a warning about its dangers. Eric and Kendall Butler said that while they can never be completely certain how their 16-year-old son died, they’re asking for parents to talk to their children about the potential for serious injury or death from self-strangulation. Commonly called the choking game, the practice involves strangulation with the hands or a noose to achieve a brief euphoric state. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that victims – who are accidentally killed – are generally males, ranging in age from 6 to 19, and doing it with no one around. “It’s basically passing out and coming back to consciousness,” Erik Butler said. “If that’s what happened, it’s important to spread this message to parents and children – that this activity is so risky and the margin of error is so thin. We lost a precious child.” Butler was found unconscious in his home Sunday evening and died early the next morning in a Sacramento hospital. The Nevada County Sheriff’s Department has ruled out suicide or any involvement by a friend who was with the youth watching a football game on TV on Sunday. Lt. Joe Salivar said that investigators determined the other teen in the room had no direct involvement in what the victim was doing. Deputies also believe Butler’s death was not the result of any football injury or due to the victim becoming entangled in exercise equipment in the room. Justin Butler had shown no signs of being suicidal, his parents said. In fact, the Bear River High School junior and varsity football player, had been experiencing an overall wonderful weekend, Kendall Butler said. The weekend leading up to Sunday evening had been a good one, with Butler scoring the Bear River team’s only touchdown against Woodcreek on Friday night. Behind a senior receiver on the team’s depth chart, the touchdown – his first with the varsity – was a special moment. Kendall Butler said father and son celebrated with a cigar on Saturday. Her son’s mood was upbeat. The shock of their son’s death Monday was giving way to resolve Wednesday to honor his memory and help prevent another tragedy. But the pain was still too strong to discuss details of that night. The Butlers said they couldn’t stress the dangers enough. “It’s not just about Bear River – it’s about all schools and all kids,” Kendall Butler said. “Justin wasn’t a troubled child and it was a terrible, tragic accident.” A memorial service is being planned for Oct. 1 at Bear River High School. “I wish I could snap my fingers and roll back the clock three days,” Eric Butler said. “The message we want to give is that life is fragile and you really need to think of the consequences of your decisions.” Eric Butler said his son was a History Channel fan, an athlete who gave 110 percent, and a young man who was just beginning to look at a future in college. Kendall Butler said she has lost a fun-loving, intelligent, compassionate son, who was also a good friend to her. “As a parent, my deepest regret is he loses out on all the experiences,” Eric Butler said. “It’s final and not like a bad car accident with a recovery. He doesn’t have any more chances.” Bear River High School’s football team will be wearing stickers on their helmets with Butler’s No. 8 on them when they play their next game Friday in Yuba City in his memory. In Auburn, Placer High School students taking a lunch break in Central Square said they had heard about Butler’s death but hadn’t heard of the choking game taking place among fellow classmates. One Ohio survey reported by the CDC found 11 percent of youths aged 12 to 18 and 19 percent of youths 17- and 18-years-olds said they played the choking game at least one time in their lives. “It doesn’t seem worth it,” said 15-year-old Lee Melbourne-Weaver. “I haven’t heard of anyone at Placer doing it. But I’d like to see it covered in health class, especially now. There are a lot of risks to it.” “It seems painful,” 15-year-old sophomore Peter Kean said. “It can’t be good for you.” Zack Phillips, 14, said he had heard no discussions about it at school. “But I have heard that when you do it and come back, there’s a big adrenaline rush,” Phillips said. “But I’ve also heard that it could cause a coma.” Hailey Levengood, 15, said she watched something about it, probably on “Oprah,” but hadn’t been given any information on it at school and hadn’t talked about it with her parents. “And I haven’t seen it done around here,” she said. The CDC used media accounts to come up with a possible number of deaths that could be attributed to the choking game. The 2008 report identified 82 probable choking-game deaths among youths aged 6 to 19 between 1995 and 2007. Seventy-one of the victims were male and 95.7 percent of the deaths occurred while the victim was alone. In 93 percent of deaths where sufficient detail was reported, parents of the victims were unaware of the choking game until the death of their child, the CDC said. ---------------------------------------------- Choking game warning signs The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says a recent study showed few parents of children who die of accidental self-strangulation in the “choking game” had been familiar with it. The federal health watchdog says parents, educators and healthcare providers should learn about the choking game and be able to recognize any of these following warning signs in youths: - Mention of the choking game or any of the other names given the practice, including “blackout game,” “pass-out game,” “scarf game” and “space monkey.” - Bloodshot eyes - Frequent, severe headaches - Disorientation after spending time alone - Ropes, scarves and belts tied to bedroom furniture or doorknobs - Ropes, scarves and belts found knotted on the floor Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention