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‘Talk to kids’: Indian Land boy, 11, died playing ‘choking game’

Garrett Pope, 11, of Indian Land, pictured at right, died of accidental asphyxiation. His parents, Garrett Sr. and Stacy Pope, with Garrett and his siblings at left, said he died after playing a “choking game” used to experience euphoria.
Garrett Pope, 11, of Indian Land, pictured at right, died of accidental asphyxiation. His parents, Garrett Sr. and Stacy Pope, with Garrett and his siblings at left, said he died after playing a “choking game” used to experience euphoria. WBTV Facebook page

Garrett Pope was the typical, happy 11-year-old boy, his parents say.

He loved playing with his friends, riding his bicycle, going fishing and playing football and lacrosse.

He also was an impressionable boy, and that led him to make a mistake that cost him his life, according to his father, Garrett Pope, Sr.

His son died while playing “The Choking Game,” in which youths cut off their airwaves in an attempt to get a sense of euphoria. Pope said he doesn’t know where Garrett would have learned about the game, and said he doesn’t want any other parents to experience what his family suffered.

“Whatever we can do to prevent this from happening to anybody else, that’s the goal,” Pope said in an interview Saturday, explaining why he felt it important to speak publicly about the incident.

“We don’t know how we’re going to go about doing that, because the wound is very fresh, very painful,” he said. “But that’s what we’ll be doing moving forward.”

Officially, the young boy died due to accidental asphyxiation Wednesday afternoon, according to the Lancaster County Coroner’s Office. An autopsy was performed Thursday and the case is still under investigation, according to Deputy Coroner Tony Broome. Broome said the boy was found in his room around 4 p.m. Wednesday.

Pope wrote in a public Facebook post that he and his wife, Stacy, looked through the family’s tablets and computers and found no sign of Garrett researching the game.

The family is holding a service Tuesday at Burgess Funeral Home, 1800 Charlotte Hwy, in Lancaster. Viewing is 4 to 6 p.m. and the service will be held from 6-7 p.m.

Previous victims of the game have been reported to have tied ropes around their neck or to have asphyxiated themselves with a towel or dog collar. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted in a 2008 study that the game may also be known as “the blackout game,” “pass-out game,” “scarf game,” or other names.

The CDC encourages parents, educators and health-care providers to familiarize themselves with signs of the game. Those may include discussion of the game, bloodshot eyes, marks on the neck, disorientation or the presence of ropes, scarves and belts tied to bedroom furniture or doorknobs.

Pope said Chris Thorpe, Garrett’s principal at Indian Land Middle School, met with the family earlier this week to see if there was anything the school could do to help.

Pope said the community’s outpouring of support has been “amazing,” adding that he has received support and prayers from many in the community. One of Pope’s friends recently dropped off a new freezer after the family ran out of freezer space to store the incoming food.

“That’s the kind of support and love that we’re feeling right now,” said Pope.

Stacy Pope said her son was “the best.” She said she heard about “The Choking Game” after a summer football coach mentioned it. She said Garrett said he didn’t know anything about it when she brought it up.

“I should have pushed it further,” said Stacy. “If you talk to your kids and they said they don’t know about it, don’t stop there. You educate them on what it is, it’s not a game and it can kill you.”

Pope said the Facebook post was meant to give other parents “words of caution.”

“He took this terrible game too far,” Pope wrote in the post. “My family has never felt pain like this before, and we don’t want anyone else to go through what we are going through.”

Pope continued in the post: “Please talk about this with your kids, and do everything you can to prevent a similar tragedy. He was so young and impressionable, he didn’t know what he was doing, and made a terrible mistake.”

David Thackham: 803-329-4066, @dthackham

The family is holding a service Tuesday at Burgess Funeral Home in Lancaster. Viewing is 4-6 p.m. and the service will be held from 6-7 p.m.

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