The Deadly Teen Choking Game: Sarah and Samuel

A Mom in Mourning

Sarah became aware of the deadliness of the choking game after her 13-year-old son Gabriel hanged himself in an attempt to get high. "My son is dead. I should have known the warning signs," she laments.

Samuel, Gabriel's twin brother, explains his involvement in the game. "We played the game a couple times a day. When my mom first found out, she went psycho: ‘I can't believe you did this.' I stopped, but Gabe got addicted."

"I didn't realize how out of control it was," Sarah admits. The night of her son's death, she went into his bedroom and made a startling discovery. "I could hear Samuel saying his brother's name, and I knew something was wrong. I ran to the room and my child [Gabriel] was unconscious with a rope around his neck. Samuel was standing behind his brother trying to hold his brother up, and I could see a rope from the top of the bunk bed."

 

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Sarah still thinks she should have done more to save her son's life. "I have so much guilt. I was five feet from my boy when he died," she mourns. "It kills me to see Samuel without his brother. You don't realize how much they lean on each other."

She struggles to move on, but feels stuck in a rut. "Our life has changed drastically. I'm barely hanging on by a thread. I've lost a lot of weight. I can't sleep. I can't turn the lights off, especially in their bedroom," she says. Because she feels an urgency to warn other parents about this dangerous game, she says she neglects her other son. "Samuel's on the sidelines. I'm just not available. He's resentful of me, spending so much time researching this and contacting people, he needs his mom back."


[AD]Samuel doesn't know how to reconnect. "My mom is unavailable. It's like trying to talk to a semi-conscious person," he explains.

Turning to Dr. Phil for help, Sarah says, "Our relationship is in trouble. I've already sacrificed one. How could I possibly sacrifice another?"

"Let me say that however long we talk here, you're not ever going to hear me say, ‘I know how you feel.' That would be presumptuous and foolish of me to say, and I'm not going to say that," Dr. Phil assures Sarah. "I know you've been very committed to raising the awareness about this to try to save some lives, which is one of the reasons that we asked you to be here, so we could talk about this, and give you this platform to honor that young man's life."

"Gabriel was a beautiful child," Sarah reflects. "I'm consumed. I'm angry that I didn't know about the dangers of this game. For me, I can't stop. I can't let go of this until I know that the public is fully aware of this … This game has been going on for a long time, and it's been kept quiet for too long."

[AD]Sarah's wish is for the schools to be more proactive. "They can teach our children not to share dirty needles. They can teach our children where to obtain condoms. They can teach our children the dangers of drug abuse and what it does physiologically and emotionally to them. We're warned about so many things in the public school," she points out. "I don't know why this isn't being warned about in our school systems."

Sarah explains how strained her relationship is with Samuel. "My life basically shut down, even though I know I have Samuel," she tells Dr. Phil. "He's important too. His life is on hold, basically, while he watches me go through this. I'm not handling it very well."

"And he's going through it as well," Dr. Phil reminds her. Turning to Samuel in the audience, he says. "Tell me how you're doing."

"Good, I guess," Samuel replies. He tells Dr. Phil that he misses his brother and his mom. "It's kind of not healthy for her, the way she's, like, addicted to the computer and the phone, by trying to get it out there." He says that his mom spends about four or five hours nightly researching and trying to get the word out about Gabriel's death.

[AD]Turning back to Sarah, Dr. Phil says, "You can't run away, and I know that's what you're trying to do. What you're saying is, ‘If I can keep busy, if I can stay on task, if I can keep myself just constantly on the phone and on the computer and doing this, then it won't catch up to me.'"

Sarah agrees. "That's kind of what I'm hoping."

Dr. Phil takes Sarah's hand and sits her in front of her son. Addressing Samuel, Dr. Phil says, "Tell your mom why you want her to get off that computer and stop saving the world and start saving you guys."

"There's nothing for me to do around there where we live, and most of the kids are littler than I am," Samuel explains. "There's nothing for me to do, and if she's doing something else, I'm pretty much stuck." But Samuel isn't sure if getting his mom away from the computer will be enough. "If you were available, we would probably talk about memories or something, because we probably wouldn't have much else," he says. "She won't go to the river or the lake, hardly."

[AD]Dr. Phil explains Sarah's reticence. "You don't want to go camping. You don't want to go places because you know those are things that will remind you of what you have lost with Gabriel," he says. "It is not a betrayal of that young man's memory for you to find joy in your life with his brother. It is not a betrayal of Gabriel for you to say, ‘I have to let you go.'" It will take some time for Sarah to stop grieving Gabriel's death. "In the meantime, you have got this young man that is sitting here and saying, ‘I miss you. I am lonely,'" Dr. Phil observes. "You want to save the world? It starts at home. If you want to save a child, start with this one. Start right here."

Sarah needs to find more constructive ways of honoring her son's memory. "You can't do that if you focus on the event and cause and day and moment of his death. You can do it, if you focus on the process of his life," Dr. Phil stresses. "If he looks down on you now, I don't want him to see pain and disconnection and loneliness, and say, ‘That's my legacy. That's what I've left behind' … I want him to see you celebrating your life, celebrating his life, celebrating [Samuel's] life. It is not a betrayal. You'll never forget him … It's not about that. It's about saying, ‘You will always be in my mind and my heart, but I am not going to lose another one.' Because [Samuel] will look for a soft place to fall. He will look for a way to find escape from that loneliness. Don't set him up for another bad decision. Take that wall down and reach out to that boy, starting right now."

[AD]Dr. Phil praises Samuel's courage. "You need to speak up for yourself and you've done that, and she needed to hear this. I'm proud of you for being here. I know you're in a tough, tough, tough spot," he says.

 

So that Sarah and Samuel can bond, he surprises them with a four-day, three-night stay at Boulder's Resort and Golden Door Spa in Arizona. Sidestep.com will provide airfare, hotel and transportation for them.