The choking game: Suicide or accident?

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By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver

PHOENIX -- "It was an athletic bandage that had Velcro. He'd wrap it around his neck. He would lean forward until he felt that he was almost ready to pass out,” Michelle Osbourne said as she described in detail what her 16-year-old son, Nick, would do inside his bedroom.

She had no idea he was playing the "choking game" until it was too late.

Osbourne called Nick to the dinner table, but he never came downstairs. So, she went to his bedroom and opened his door.

"He was blue and purple in the face," she told 3TV’s Brandon Lee.

In less than 60 seconds, Osbourne's life changed forever.

"I couldn't move. For the first time in my life, I had nothing," she said.

Nick was the oldest of Osbourne's three beautiful children. It was a house filled with love and laughter, but suddenly all of the joy was gone.

Five years later, Osbourne can still remember how she felt the moment she found her son dead.
"I couldn't move. I was looking at that thinking this is not happening. This is unreal and this can't be happening, but it was very real," she said.

The choking game has been around for generations. It’s a quick and easy way to get an instant high by cutting off the oxygen to the brain. Kids think the game is so innocent, they record each other choking themselves and then post the horrifying videos on YouTube.

Osbourne said Nick was a good student in the classroom, excelled at sports, and always loved to make people laugh.

"He was a wonderful person, a very caring person, fun person, always wanted to make people laugh, always had a smile on his face," Osbourne said.

But she also admits that Nick was a thrill-seeker.

“He was a boy! Don't get me wrong, but he was fun and we always had a good time. He was the first person at the amusement park to sit in the front row of the roller coaster with his arms in the air. He liked excitement," she said.

It was that dare devil spirit that likely cost Nick his life.

He had learned the choking game at church camp during summer 2005. About a week after Nick returned home, Osbourne had his pictures developed, and that’s when she saw the first sign of trouble ahead.

"There was one picture and it's a bunch of boys standing together, and one of the boys has his hands on his throat," Osbourne said. "I asked him, ‘What are you doing?’ He kind of brushed it off and said, ‘We're just messing around. We were just messing around, Mom. It's nothing.' "

Osbourne said she took the photos of the choking game to the church camp.

"They were shocked," she said.

Looking back, Osbourne says there were other troubling signs.

"He would be in his room, and he would come out and he would look a little bit dazed," she recalled.

Child psychologists warn that the choking game is not going away, and the kids who are playing it are the kids you would least expect.

"This is typically the type of thing good kids do -- the high achievers. This is a way for them to have a little bit of a rush, get some thrill-seeking," said Dr. Shelly Reed, a clinical child psychologist who specializes in counseling teenagers.

Reed said many teen suicides aren’t what they seem. She believes many kids are choking themselves for a quick high and have no intention of taking their own lives.

"If you walk into a kid's bedroom, and they're sitting there with a scarf tied around their neck and they're dangling from their doorknob, it looks like a suicide," she said.

She added that it's more than likely not a suicide if there has never been an issue with depression.

Osbourne said Nick was never depressed, and she blamed herself immediately following his death.

"As a parent I thought, gosh, did I lead him down the wrong road? Was I not paying attention? Did I not warn him about everything?" she said.

When asked what she would say to parents who don't believe their kids would play the choking game, Osbourne replied, “Don’t be so fast to judge because kids will be kids.”