Debbie LaRocque. The Choking Game’s Quiet Crusader

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An activity that has come to be know, in popular lexicon as ‘The Choking Game’, is really no game at all.

There is no sense of fair play, that is for sure. Just ask the people who are left behind, when the so-called ‘game’ goes too far. From that particular end result, there is only loss.

Among the people to experience overwhelming loss from The Choking Game,  is a family in the Algoma District, who, in 2006, would be catapulted into a new reality.  A reality that would be born out of the indiscriminate and cruel results of a game that purports experimenting with self-asphyxiation as a ‘rad’ thing to do.

20160524_153850Debbie LaRocque has become an advocate for challenging young people and families, teachers, school councils and  school boards, homeschoolers and public health workers to consider introducing the facts around ‘The Choking Game’, into teachable moments. In fact, Debbie has been to many events, to schools, conferences and faith circles, within the Algoma District, and even to North Bay , Ontario, to speak to the issue of ‘The Choking Game’.

Through a Christian faith that seeks to honour her son’s legacy, Debbie is on a quiet crusade to educate, to inform, to listen, and to embrace opportunities for sharing the wider story of ‘The Choking Game’. It is her own story that moved her into action; her son’s story, Kelly LaRocque. A high academic achiever, and an athlete; a young man with zero background in drugs or alcohol experimentation; a great kid who died at the age of 18 yrs. A kid from St. Joseph’s Island.

On a lovely piece of property on St. Joe’s Island, saultonline sat down with Debbie and her two adorable dachshunds at her home near Gawas Bay. She and her husband Ovide moved to the house in 2008, with daughter Alicesa, who was recently married.

In ‘Kelly’s Story’, penned by Debbie Laroque, she writes:

kelly-laroque‘January 7th, 2006 started out as any other Saturday when my husband, Ovide works his weekend of 12-hour afternoon shifts.  Since he got home at 5 am, he would sleep until about 1 pm and would head back to work at 3.  When Kelly (18) and Alicesa (15) got up, they spent some time watching Saturday morning cartoons and one of Kelly’s favourites, the Krats Brothers show -Be the Creature.  (Kelly has always been interested in nature and wild life.)  Around noon, Kelly came upstairs and made himself a plate of Triskit Crackers covered with melted cheddar cheese.  He had me book a haircut for him for the following Tuesday after school.  It was a typical Saturday, a Saturday wrapping up Christmas vacation. I prepared our main meal for about 2 pm, so that my husband would be able to eat before he left for work.  As usual, I called for the kids to come set the table, which they did.  Kelly said that he had just eaten.  He said he would eat later when he was hungry.  He went back down stairs and that was the last that we saw him alive.

After our meal, my husband got ready and left for work at 3 pm.  Alicesa called to invite a friend over and I threw in a load of laundry.  Her friend arrived about 4 and they watched part of a movie, and ate about 5:30.  After, I cleared the table, they set it up to play Scrabble.

Now, it was just past 6.  Kelly’s leftover meal was still waiting for him.  I called him then to see if he was going to come and eat.  I didn’t get a response.  It was not uncommon for him to go into his room and spend a few hours there.  He loved to read books and he would study scripts from Lord of the Rings (he was a huge fan).  He also liked to write scripts that one day he hoped to make into movies.  What was uncommon was it was now 6 hours since he had eaten.  Anyone with a teenage boy in the house knows that they don’t go too long before coming in search of FOOD.  I thought perhaps Kelly wasn’t feeling well, so I went downstairs to rap outside his room.  Since he had a blanket for a door, I rapped on the wall.  No answer.  I pulled the blanket back and was shocked to find him on his knees with a rope around his neck.  Alicesa told the police that I screamed and came running for the cordless phone.  Dialing 911 on my way back to his room I told her not to come downstairs.  I didn’t want her to see her brother like that.

The blue colouring around his mouth told me that he was already gone.  I am sure it was with the help of angels, that I was able to get the rope from his neck and lie him down.  I checked for a pulse and began CPR even though I knew it was too late.  I just needed to do something.  At 18 and 6’2″ he was still my baby boy.

The rest becomes almost dream like.  Like, I was watching this happening to someone else.  The ambulance and police came.  The police picked up Ovide at work in Thessalon, Ontario (about 40 min. away).  They told him that his son had committed suicide. He later told me that was the longest ride of his life, he couldn’t understand what he as a father, had done wrong and how would we ever get through this.  He prayed. (It was later determined that it was not suicide, but what else could police say when they found someone with something around their neck that they placed there themselves.)

For me, at some point, for some reason, my mind flashed back to the fall 2005, when I had seen a brief segment of the Oprah show, where they were warning of kids playing “The Choking Game”.  At the time, I thought these kids were kids out there on the edge, kids that pushed the limit, kids that were risk takers.  I remember thinking, Kelly, why would you play such a game. He was a smart kid, a good kid, he was not a thrill seeker.

“Accidental Asphyxiation”  is how Kelly’s death is ruled.  From shortly after his death, I have felt that there is a great need to educate kids about the deadly consequences of this so called game.  Thrill Seeking Asphyxiation is known commonly as the Choking Game but is also known as; Tingling, Black Out, Space Monkey, Flat Liner, Space Cowboy, Pass Out and a host of other names. It has been around for generations in various forms.  I also feel that it is important to educate parents that it is not just kids out there on the edge, but that because of lack of education to the dangers of these types of activities, every child is vulnerable.  Most of the kids that are dying are good kids, coming from good, strong families; kids that are not typically risk takers.  These are kids that thought that they were being safe.’

It has been 10 years since Kelly LaRocque’s death from ‘The Choking Game’, and in that time, a mother with the courage of her convictions has rallied whenever invited, to speak to groups large and small, of all ages, about the dangers of an activity with such dire consequences.

“Through my faith, I find courage. I couldn’t do what I’m doing without a strong faith in God. He has been a source of strength for the last ten years. I have an even stronger faith now; since Kelly died. In August, (2005) before he died, Kelly was baptized; A journey he undertook on his own.”

Debbie finds strength in her community of faith, The Free Methodist Church (10th Side Road) on St. Joseph’s Island, where she & family began attending in the late 80’s.

“My church has been the place where I find courage and hope. There are people there, who continue to pray for us regularly; the people and pastor(s) there, prayed and supported us through the worst time; the ugliest days of our lives. This is where I find grace, and meaning to Kelly’s life and to his death. I really believe God hears the prayers of His people, and is actively making a difference in my life.”

ChokingGameposterimageRecently, Debbie participated in Sault Ste. Marie Police Services Day at Station Mall, as part of the broader annual Ontario Police Week. Debbie has developed a relationship with the Sault Police, the OPP, and The Anishinabek Police Service and is often invited by police services to give presentations, and set up a display about ‘The Choking Game’ at events.

“The Choking Game has been around for generations.” she said. “At the Station Mall last week, a woman and her husband stopped to speak with me. It turns out that the gentleman said to his wife, ‘I did this’, which prompted her to take a closer look.  He was 75 years old and he apparently did this when he was a kid. It was a complete revelation to his wife.” she said  “But he isn’t the first older fellow to tell me this. A few years ago, at an event where I was presenting, a man in his late 80’s said to me ..’You know this isn’t new right?. …I did this when I was a kid. We would take off our scarves and tie them around our neck to see who would pass out first. I guess we kind of grew up and stopped doing it. Nobody ever thought we could die from it.”

And when it comes to official cause of death, LaRocque says that there is a risk that the choking game, or accidental asphyxiation, is not being listed as official ’cause of death’.

“Many times, the death is listed as a suicide. I hear stories all the time about good kids, bright kids, kids just like Kelly, who loved life, and had no idea they could die from this activity. None of them were trying to kill themselves. They made a mistake because they didn’t have enough information about this activity. They decided to play and it cost them their lives. ”

According to a 2014 study, The CDC (Centre for Disease Control) estimates that 800 to 1,000 children between the ages of 10 through 19 die every year from playing the game. The study further revealed that 86 percent of parents report not having known about the game prior to their child’s involvement and a whopping 87% percent of these deaths were among boys.  (http://www.cdc.gov)

Perhaps one of the best resources for researching ‘The Choking Game’, and one that Laroque recommends is the website, ‘GASP’, which states: ‘Adolescents cut off the flow of blood to the brain, in exchange for a few seconds of feeling lightheaded. Some strangle themselves with a belt, a rope or their bare hands; others push on their chest or hyperventilate. When they release the pressure, blood that was blocked up floods the brain all at once. This sets off a warm and fuzzy feeling, which is just the brain dying, thousands of cells at a time.’ GASP (Games Adolescents Shouldn’t Play) is an international not–for–profit association founded for the purpose of putting an end to the Choking Game—an asphyxiation activity that causes the needless death of children and suffering of communities. (www.gaspinfo.com)

For obvious reasons, Debbie does not like the name, ‘The Choking Game’. It is a most unfortunate use of the word, game. It is also the title of a 2014  ‘Lifetime TV Movie’ (based on the book ‘Choke’ by Dianna Lopez), the subject of hundreds of videos posted to YouTube and other social networking sites. A Google search of ‘The Choking Game’ will certainly garner a long list of stories and links from all over the planet.

The choking game is also found sometimes in hushed conversations amongst children and youth.

As Debbie shared with saultonline, this activity goes by many names.

“Black Out, Pass Out, Funky Chicken, Space Monkey, Funky Cowboy AirPlaning, Lava Face, White Walling, The Scarf Game, The Fainting Game. These are some, but possibly not all, of the names of self asphyxiation games.”

Debbie has been refining her presentations over the last ten years, and has developed presentations that are age based learning. “I talk to them at their level and explain that (for example with young children) having something tied tight around your neck is really dangerous. I introduce the concept of good games to play and bad games to play.”

“Organized sport locker rooms are places where the choking game has happened to horrible consequences.” she said

“My favourite audience to share this information with are parents. In reality, students are hearing about this activity, and having parents open to learning about this; about sharing the information with their kids in a safe and meaningful way makes a difference.”

“I’m here to share with parents that it happens. It happened to me, and it can happen to you. We need to be vigilant about our kids. Today, young people have access to information at their fingertips, and are literally carrying these devices in their hands all day.”

Debbie spoke about a school teacher that her son Kelly had, and who was very shaken by Kelly’s death. “His words meant so much to me; he said that ‘If it can happen to your family, it can happen to anyone’s family.”

Debbie is part of a private social network where victims of ‘The Choking Game’ can find comfort through shared experience. She also started a grief support group at her church.

Reflecting on a journey that started in 2006, Debbie shared, “If my son could say anything to me, what would he say. He would say, ‘Mom, tell my friends, tell anyone that will listen to you, that this is dangerous. Tell them that people can die from this.’

And that is now Debbie LaRocque’s quiet crusade. To seek to empower. Through God’s grace, to find meaning in a life lived; her son Kelly’s life; one that was taken too soon… in the blink of an eye on a January day.

To reach out to Debbie LaRocque for presentations or information about ‘The Choking Game’, including pamphlets she developed with police, contact her at 705-246-2714.

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