CHESTERFIELD, Mo. – It's a story some medical experts say should be on the radar of every parent, teacher, counselor, and coach. Kids choking themselves to get a rush.
In a Five on Your Side investigation, we look at the heartbreaking story of a local family convinced their son and brother died doing this.
It goes by many different names: Pass-out, Gasp, the Fainting Game.
Parker Hanser, of Chesterfield, was just 15-years old when he died March 13 playing what his family has come to call the choking game.
Parker was a triplet, just an infant when NewsChannel 5 did a story on his sisters and family on in-vitro fertilization in the fall of 1999. In late August Parker's mother, Jenifer Hanser, contacted NewsChannel 5 again asking for help.
"Parents need to know there's more to talk about with your kids than drugs, sex, and alcohol. That's only part of it," Jenifer said.
This time, Jenifer took Kay Quinn to Parker's room to show her the spot where he died on the first day of spring break, hanging by a shoelace.
"We thought he slipped and it just somehow caught on something on the punching bag," Jenifer said.
An accident is what they thought. Parker was the only boy among five sisters. He taught special needs children how to swim, wanted to work with them when he grew up, loved baseball, and taking risks.
"He was into being unstoppable," his sister, Morgan Hanser, said. "He thought nothing would happen. He wanted to take risks."
His family says Parker wasn't depressed. He had been to a hockey game the night before and was looking forward to learning how to drive.
"There are still times when I say to myself this just doesn't seem real, how is this happening," Jenifer said.
In the days after his death, his family mourned what they knew was an accident.
Jenifer was shocked when she picked up his death certificate to see the medical examiner had ruled his death a suicide. She sat down with her family in the hopes of finding out what really happened.
"I had everybody here so we could go through and find out who knows what," Jenifer said.
It was at that family meeting his sisters first talked about the choking game.
They remembered a time when Parker choked one of them, the time he blamed the family dog for a red mark on his neck. His fascination with a TV show about it and hearing friends talking about playing the game.
"Things just started falling into place," Jenifer said. "Went into his room, and at that point there was a belt attached to his bedpost."
"These are very, very smart and driven students," Dr. Ujjwal Ramtekkar, a child psychiatrist at Mercy Pediatric Hospital, said.
Dr. Ramtekkar says the choking game can be found in medical literatures as far back as 1951. Medical studies show 36 percent of kids admit knowing about it, and about 7 percent admit to doing it.
NewsChannel 5 asked Dr. Ramtekkar if he is worried that by airing this story, we will be giving kids ideas to do the choking game.
"Absolutely not," Dr. Ramtekkar said. "This is just like what we think about suicide. Knowledge is power. So we shouldn't be worried about giving them ideas at all, because honestly they know about this much more than we as adults do."
Here are some warning signs: Increased need for secrecy. Finding belts and ties laying out, or tied to bedposts. Ligature marks on the neck, or hiding them with clothing like turtlenecks or scarves. Confusion, dizziness, headaches, being slowed down.
"Many times it is experimentation," Dr. Ramtekkar said. "It's basically engaging in some kind of behavior that might give you a high, but would not expose you socially and be termed as a bad kid."
Until Parker's death, Jenifer had never heard of the choking game. Learning about it has helped her cope. Now, she wants to spread the awareness to spare other parents her pain.
"These teenagers aren't looking at this as risk taking," Jenifer said. "They don't look at it the same way, they don't realize what can happen. You know, and so that's what bothers me is that the awareness isn't out there."
Parker's sister Courtney says its kids who need to take this warning seriously.
"I want them to know that it's actually not a joke," Courtney Hanser, Parker's sister, said. "And that they shouldn't be playing the game because there are serious consequences like a death or like serious injuries."
Most of the children who die from the game are boys ages 11 to 16.
Dr. Ramtekkar says any parent who thinks their child may be doing this, should call a therapist immediately for counseling. You can find one through your school counselor or local pediatric hospital.
More information about the Choking Game: