Last Wednesday, the parents of Garrett Pope, Jr., found the 11-year-old South Carolina boy in his room, dead from accidental asphyxiation. Now they're speaking out to let the world know that something called the "Choking Game" killed their little boy and to warn other parents so the same thing doesn't happen to them, the Washington Post reports. Also known by names including "Cloud Nine," "Five Minutes in Heaven," "Blackout," and "Good Kid's High," the game involves briefly cutting off the flow of oxygen to the brain, resulting in a euphoric feeling. But it's dangerous, especially when played alone; some children use belts slung from doorknobs to achieve the high. The advocacy group GASP estimates nearly 400 children died from playing the Choking Game between 1995 and 2007, but notes that it's difficult to track exact numbers since many of the deaths are reported as suicides.
Indeed, rumors went around that Garrett had committed suicide, which is one of the reasons his parents are speaking out. "Please know that his senseless death was not intentional. He took this terrible 'game' too far," they write in a Facebook post that has been shared more than 1,500 times so far. "He was so young and impressionable, he didn’t know what he was doing, and made a terrible mistake." Garrett's mom, Stacy, tells the Herald she heard about the Choking Game from a football coach over the summer and asked her son about it, but he claimed he had never heard of it. "I should have pushed it further," she says. "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's father says he assumes his son learned about the game from his peers, because there's no record of him researching it on family electronics, the Lancaster News reports. A GoFundMe campaign in Garrett's memory aims to raise money to buy books for local schools. (Read more Choking Game stories.)