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Auburn couple who lost son to choking game work for awareness on deadly danger

Justin Butler was 16 when he died; Parents want their message to resonate with others
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA - It would have been their son?s Graduation Day and Eric and Kendall Butler sat uncomfortably in the audience at Bear River High School?s graduation earlier this month until the pain was too much and they could no longer stay. Their 16-year-old son, Justin Butler, died nearly two years ago in the choking game ? a deadly asphyxiation stunt mostly played by teenagers that has cast its dark shadow globally. The grieving Auburn couple has vowed to work to aid prevention efforts and earlier this month attended a conference in Virginia that brought together medical experts, advocates and many parents from South Africa, France, Canada, as well as across the United States. Put on by the DB Foundation ? an organization that strives for dangerous adolescent behavior education ? the conference focused on the horrendous outcomes of an activity irresponsibly promoted on the Internet and given tantalizing names like ?Flatliner,? ?Something Dreaming,? ?Rush,? ?Airplaning,? ?Elevator,? and ?Hangman.? A derivative of the hangman game was believed by authorities to be what Justin Butler was alone and doing when he was accidentally killed. The death of a popular member of the Bear River football team sent shockwaves through both the school community and the Lake of the Pines area. The Butlers were left to pick up the pieces of a life cut short. This month they felt the pain at what would have been a triumphant day for their son as he moved on to college. ?One of Justin?s best friends asked us to be at the graduation ceremony,? Eric Butler said. ?We came but left before it was over. It?s hard to go back to the school and the football field.? Just days later, they flew to the East Coast conference to learn more about what they and others can do to stop more tragedies from taking place. ?I?m an ICU nurse so I?m going to focus more on educating the medical community,? Kendall Butler said. ?When children come in with a complaint, they may present with a different symptom.? On Facebook, she is working with other advocates of choking game prevention around the world. Kendall Butler said a South African physician at the conference told of receiving resistance from educators to coming into a school to talk about choking game dangers because they felt it would mean students would learn about it. ?Schools are afraid that if they talk about it, students will do it,? Kendall Butler said. ?But when the physician did give a talk at the school, a student stepped up and showed a video made the week before of students taking part. Educators are not aware of how prevalent the problem is.? Eric Butler said the choking game is now known to become addictive, because of the rush of blood that releases endorphins. But that also means children will attempt to do it on their own, which increases the risk even more. Eric Butler said he?ll be advocating for more education in the schools on the choking game and other dangerous behaviors, particularly for children in grades seven, eight and nine. ?Justin had a good head on his shoulders,? Kendall Butler said. ?Other victims are Eagle Scouts, working to go into the military. There are so many athletes. They?re told drugs are bad. And because they may not have heard enough about it, they see it as a safe alternative.? According to the DB Foundation, 40 percent of teens think the choking game is safe. But while statistics are not officially kept, the Centers for Disease Control has used media accounts to come up with a possible number of deaths that can be attributed to the choking game. The 2008 report identified 82 probable choking-game deaths among youths aged 6 to 19 between 1995 and 2007. Nineteen in 20 occurred while the victim was alone. Say ?No? to the choking game If you are playing ? Realize how lucky you are that nothing horrible has happened and stop. Right now, today. If you find you simply can?t stop, ask an adult for help. If someone you know is playing ? Tell them how dangerous it is and to stop. And then find the nearest adult you trust and tell them. Strength in numbers ? Hang out with kids who don?t do this. Walk away ? If people ask you to do it, leave. Give a reason ? ?No, I know it?s deadly.? Share ? Share information on how dangerous it is with friends and family. There is no ?right? or ?safe? way to do this. Source: The DB Foundation.