The boy was admitted to a hospital the same day a Seattle girl died from the game.

Share story

The same day a Seattle girl died after apparently hanging herself while playing a choking game, a Grays Harbor County boy was admitted to a Tacoma hospital with brain damage after choking himself, fainting and hitting his head in front of a group of middle-school students and teachers.

It is known, especially in middle-school circles, as “the choking game,” “the pass-out game,” “the tingling game” or “the space monkey.” Since April, two Idaho boys, one from North Carolina and another from California have been among a growing number of teens across the country to die after cutting off oxygen to their brains in an apparent attempt to get high.

On Wednesday, Alexandra Maree Berlin, 12, died from asphyxia from hanging by a karate belt around her neck, according to the King County Medical Examiner’s Office. Investigators have not determined if her death was an accident or a suicide.

Berlin’s younger sibling found her alone and unconscious on her bedroom floor, said Seattle police spokesman Rich Pruitt. One end of Berlin’s karate belt was tied around her neck, and the other end attached to a bunk bed.

Berlin, who lived in Seattle’s Rainier Beach neighborhood, later died at Harborview Medical Center.

“Is this familiar or similar to choking game incidents? Yes,” Pruitt said. “But we just don’t know. We will look at everything to try to figure it out.”

A girl who answered the door at Berlin’s house yesterday declined to comment, saying her mother was busy making funeral arrangements that the family didn’t know how they would pay for.

Also Wednesday, a 14-year-old boy who attends Elma Middle School in Elma, Grays Harbor County, was taken to Tacoma’s Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital as a result of playing the choking game, said Dr. Gary Park.

According to Park, the boy hyperventilated and passed out, fell and fractured his skull. The incident happened at school and was captured on videotape, he said, adding the boy suffered “significant brain damage.”

“It’s totally unbelievable [and it’s] such a senseless act. Kids don’t appreciate what could happen,” Park said.

Elma Middle School Principal Greg Scroggins said the boy and some other students were talking about the recent death of a California school child from playing the choking game. The boy, an eighth-grader, decided to try it.

The boy hunched over, put his hands on his neck to stop his breathing, fell over backward and hit his head, Scroggins said.

Teachers discussed what happened to students and parents were notified, he said.

Colin Russell, an eighth-grader at Mason Middle School in Tacoma, died Sept. 7 after hanging himself in his closet, another suspected victim of the choking game. The 13-year-old’s death prompted Tacoma Public Schools to hold its first information session to teach parents about the choking game, said district spokeswoman Leanna Albrecht.

About 30 parents attended a session on Monday at Russell’s school, Albrecht said, adding the district plans to hold teacher training on choking games and will eventually hold similar sessions for parents with children at other schools.

Yesterday, the Seattle School District added a link to its Web site, directing parents to www.teenchokinggame.com to learn the warning signs and the dangers of such “games,” said Pegi McEvoy, a nurse practitioner and the district’s safety administrator.

Youths who try choking themselves can faint and die because they cut off their oxygen supply, but they can also suffer strokes by compressing then releasing pressures on the carotid arteries that carry blood to the brain, McEvoy said.

Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or sgreen@seattletimes.com

Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or sgilmore@seattletimes.com