[Editor's note: This column was published July 15, 2007.]
The popcorn was ready.
Diane Pryor called for Elizabeth, her daughter, to come get some. She didn't answer. The 13-year-old was in her bedroom. The lights were on and the door was open.
Pryor walked from the kitchen into Elizabeth's bedroom. A walk-in closet that was missing its door knob was slightly ajar. That's where Pryor found her on Jan. 8, 2007.
A belt was tied around her neck. The other end of the belt had been tied into the hole of the door knob. Elizabeth was crouched down, kneeling practically, unconscious and slumped to one side.
Gwinnett investigators ruled her death a suicide.
Pryor, a 49-year-old mother of two, thinks not.
Had the youngest of her two daughters wanted to kill herself, she could have done so with prescription drugs and a small cache of alcohol in the family's Berkeley Lake home.
The notion of a suicide didn't add up.
Then Pryor recalled the seventh-grader's behavior as of late --- the aggressive and agitated nature, the bloodshot eyes and headaches. Pryor conducted research online and interviewed experts on adolescent behavior. She's drawn to only one conclusion: Elizabeth probably had been practicing the "Choking Game, " and died that January day while doing it.
Really it's no game at all. But apparently those who try it cut off the flow of oxygenated blood to the brain, then release it to create a euphoric rush. Someone doing this alone may lose consciousness and be unable to unhinge him or herself, according to deadlygameschildren play.com, a Web site dedicated to awareness and prevention.
And that's what Pryor suspects befell Elizabeth.
She decided to publicize her story after the nonprofit Gwinnett Coalition for Health and Human Services released its 2006 Youth Teen Health survey results this month. It found that high-risk behavior among middle school and high school-age kids is on the rise.
Pryor says we teach kids about the dangers of drugs, alcohol and sex, but let a potentially deadly game that has several names (Space Monkey, Space Cowboy) go unnoticed. Yet it's just as deadly among children 11 and older.
The Web site, deadlygames childrenplay.com, states that authorities wrongly rule such deaths as suicides. Statistics on the site show that the United States has had 35 victims so far this year.
Pryor says there's no doubt in her mind the game contributed to Elizabeth's death.
"I'm much more well-versed on it than I was six months ago, and much more versed than I want to be, " she told me. "The game has been around forever, only now it's more dangerous because the kids are doing it more and more by themselves.
"Do you know of anybody who would attempt suicide with a bedroom door open and the light on?"
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