What appears to be suicide could be the choking game

Published: May. 26, 2011 at 2:39 AM EDT|Updated: Jun. 12, 2011 at 2:12 PM EDT
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BEAUFORT, SC (WTOC) - Teenagers think it's a game, but there aren't any winners. If they don't die they could end up brain dead. Children all over the country are doing it and parents usually don't find out their child is playing until it's too late. It happened to one Beaufort County family.

Frequently when these young people die, their deaths are ruled as a suicide. After talking to friends, it's quickly discovered that the child didn't take their own life, instead died played a deadly game.

It happened to the Baaske's of Beaufort South Carolina."Our story starts July first of last year and somehow our daughter had found out about a dangerous activity, that she didn't realize was dangerous, called the choking game," said Erik Baaske.

Erik and Jonelle Baaske lost their 13-year-old daughter Laurian to the game. They'd never even heard of it until the night they found their daughter in her closet.

In many cases, the children will choke each other until they pass out. In YouTube videos, you can see other kids laughing. They think it's all a big game. In some instances, children will do it alone, which is what Laurian did.  "The belt that she used was not a giving type of thing and she just didn't know what she was doing," said Jonelle Baaske.

When her parents found her they didn't know what to think. Why would their daughter who had a bright future ahead of her take her own life? She showed no signs of depression, she actually had made plans for the following week, the pieces didn't add up. That was until the Baaskes learned about the choking game, a game that's killing children and teens all over the country.

"The children know way more about this than we do and we are naive to think that they are not the expert on this because in my opinion they are," said Douglas Masini, a professor at Armstrong Atlantic State University

Masini saw his first case of the choking game back in the 80s and knows more children are dying from this game than we know. "When you look at the number of suffocations, suicides reported to the CDC, those numbers are going up," said Masini.  "A lot of young females dying of suffocation by hanging over the last 15 years or so, so it makes one wonder if the accidental death while playing the game might not emulate suicide and been accidental seen as such."

Masini says it's hard to tell the difference sometimes and it's an issue forensic pathologists and medical examiners nationwide are discussing.

Masini said that most of the time it's not going to be the physical evidence that uncovers this mystery. "Almost always the parents, the clergy, the coaches, the teachers will not know anything about this, but all their friends will know. They will know who they played with. They know where they learned it so those kids have become a part of that retrospective analysis to differentiate accidental death from the choking game versus a suicide."

Telling Laurian's story isn't easy for the Baaskes, but they knew they had to. "We want other parents to know so they can talk to their children so they don't have to go through this," said Jonelle Baaske.

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