2005-11-17 / Front Page

New trend proving deadly

By Daniel Wolowicz danielw@theacorn.com

Sasha Sepasi Sasha Sepasi When Kamelia Sepasi found her 14-year-old daughter, Sasha, hanging dead from a belt inside her closet, she had no idea her daughter's tragic death was the result of a deadly new "game" that continues to grow in popularity with school children throughout the United States.

Sasha, who died Fri., Oct. 21 at her home in Tarzana, was a freshman honors student at Viewpoint School in Calabasas.

"(She) was a very deep, sensitive, emotional, loving, generous, bright kid," Sepasi said. "She had such a big heart, and she had such a big soul . . . She was interested . . . in school, in art, in politics."

Memorial services for the girl were held at Temple Judea in Tarzana. She was buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Los Angeles.

Sepasi had no reason to suspect her daughter- a published poet, a gifted artist and a talented athlete- was experimenting with the new Russian roulette of the 21st century. According to experts, many parents and school administrators have no idea about the new phenomenon and its potentially fatal consequences.

Known as the the "choking game," it involves children, mostly young teens, who try to asphyxiate themselves in order to achieve the "high" they feel after blood and oxygen rush back to the brain. Often, youngsters choke themselves until they lose consciousness.

Sepasi said she found out from Sasha's friends that the teen had played the game before. Sepasi believes, however, this was the first time Sasha ever played the game alone.

According to Julie Rosenbluth, a director with the New York-based American Council for Drug Education, the reports of children dying from this game have recently begun to pour into her office from across the nation. It's so new, in fact, that Rosenbluth said she has not seen any national studies that show in which parts of the country the game is most popular.

What Rosenbluth does know, however, is that many of the youngsters participating in the dangerous act are typically "good kids," like Sasha, who wouldn't normally use drugs or alcohol.

"They do it because they don't think there's anything wrong with it," Rosenbluth said. "It's not drugs, it's not alcohol." Rosenbluth said the youngsters are choking themselves for the "natural high."

Even for veteran school administrators like Viewpoint School's Headmaster Robert Dworkoski, the choking game has only recently come to light.

Dworkoski said the school hosted an assembly addressing "hazardous behaviors" a week before Sasha's death. In a statement issued by the Viewpoint, school officials said, "Viewpoint's teachers and counselors have been consoling and counseling the school's grieving students. The school will continue to provide programs to address these compelling issues with the students."

Although other death-defying games played by young people have been around for many years, Rosenbluth said she can only guess as to why there's a sudden surge in the asphyxiation deaths.

Rosenbluth said either the Internet is helping spread the deadly game or the media is reporting on it more.

She said the reason for the rising death toll might be because more youngsters are playing the game alone. Because there is no one nearby to stop the asphyxiation once the child loses consciousness, more young teens are dying.

"They are essentially hanging themselves accidentally," Rosenbluth said. "All they have is the gravity of their bodies to pull down and no way to release the pressure."

This is exactly what happened to Sasha, said her mother.

Because youngsters are hanging themselves- albeit unintentionally- many coroners list the cause of death as suicide. For parents such as Sepasi, the coroner's assessment only adds insult to injury.

Sepasi said Sasha was sitting on the floor when her family found her. The belt, Sepasi said, was fixed no more than six feet off the ground. The mother is certain her daughter's death was unintentional.

"Nobody can hang themselves from something their (own) height," Sepasi said. "Nobody hangs themself sitting down."

Sepasi said her daughter had planned to go jogging that night with a local neighbor, not typical for a teen contemplating suicide.

According to Sepasi, Sasha was athletic- just one of the areas in which she excelled.

Although young, Sasha was already a successful painter, her mother said. One of her paintings hangs at the Childrens Hospital in Los Angeles.

Sasha was also a poet. A short poem she wrote was published about four years ago. It read: "The flower moves gently from dawn till noon across the glowing lake adoring its petals."

Sasha is survived by her mother, her father, Robert Sepasi, and her sister Sunny, 13.

The "choking game" is a deadly new activity being played by children who asphyxiate themselves in order to achieve the "high" they feel after blood and oxygen rush back to the brain. Youngsters either choke themselves or have a friend do it until they lose consciousness.

Parents not only need to talk to their children about the dangers of the "game," but they also need to look for telltale signs that their child may be experimenting with the lethal fad.

These are the signs that your child may be playing this deadly game:

  • Speaks in a raspy voice
  • Has red or bloodshot eyes
  • Complains of headaches or blurred vision
  • Has marks on the neck, such as bruising or discoloration
  • Needs more privacy than usual
  • Acts quiet or withdrawn
  • Shows a fascination with possible ligatures, such as belt, scarves and rope.
  • - Daniel Wolowicz

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