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“Suffocation Games” Proving to be Fatal Attraction to Youngsters

Jul 21, 2005 | When even well adjusted kids start engaging in extremely dangerous risk-taking behavior and regard it as a game, tragedies are bound to start happening. That is precisely what is happening with a disturbing trend known as “suffocation games.”

Children and teenagers are being attracted to “games” which produce a drug-like high through strangulation which cuts off oxygen to the brain.

Whether it is called “black out,” “funky chicken”, “space monkey,”  “flatliner,” “tingling,” or “suffocation roulette,” all too often what begins as fun is ending in death.
Even 10-year-olds and middle school children (alone or with friends) are using belts, plastic bags, and ropes to induce a high. Teenagers often use the dangerous behavior to increase sexual pleasure.

The most recent victim of a suffocation game was Dalton Eby who died last week after hanging himself in a tree where he and his friend often played suffocation with a rope.

According to Sheriff Ralph Davis of Fremont County, Idaho; “When they strangle themselves and release the pressure, it creates a tingling sensation in their upper body, especially their arms head. And they think that’s cool.”

Other deaths include 13 year old Chelsea Dunn from Idaho who hung herself from a belt and shoelace in her bedroom closet. Her father reported that she and her girlfriends liked to play strangulation games in the school locker room. Six of them were suspended after an act of strangulation was caught on security videotape.

In Canada, four deaths and one near death occurred when boys, ages 7-12, choking themselves with towels from the dispensers in school bathrooms. To rectify the danger, the dispensers were redesigned.

 In addition to death, these games can result in permanent brain damage. This was the case for 11 year old Ashley Tucker, who went into a coma after playing a choking game at a slumber party. Tucker spent months in rehabilitation and suffered from comas for several years.

Doctors and psychiatrists report that suffocation games are common, and the resulting deaths are often mischaracterized as suicides.

Ashraf Attalla, a child psychiatrist at the Ridgeview Institute in Atlanta remarks “To my surprise, it's much more common than I thought. We're seeing this more and more.”

Ruth Rabinovitz, an internal disease specialist in Medford, Oregon says "They're underrecognized. They're often misdiagnosed as a suicide, to the further anguish of the parents."

Two incidences of strangulation suggest that even parents who suspect something may not be able to prevent a tragedy from happening.

Jennifer Cernekee, a well-adjusted 14-year-old from Kenosha Wisconsin, died in 2001. Although her death was first ruled a suicide, a further investigation revealed she had been part of a group of children who were playing these games. When she was asked about marks on her neck, she had told her parents they were from an allergic reaction.

Similarly, Sarah Pacette of Paradise California had cautioned her sons against choking themselves. One son, a 13-year-old, had demonstrated three of the five warning signs including red eyes, bad headaches, and marks on the neck. The other two signs are pornography and locked doors.

These cases suggest an increase in a type of behavior that is quite unsettling and hardly a game. The repeated use of strangulation as a means to induce any form of pleasure is undoubtedly a sign of some broader social problem.

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