The Choking Game

Charles,

I am hoping you can help me keep a promise.

On Thursday May 17th, 2012, just as I began another night shift as patrol sergeant, I was called to an apparent suicide in the Town of Sutton, Ontario. 26 plus years of doing this job has brought me to many of these, none of them easy to deal with. There was no way for me to know that this one would be different.

Upon arrival I spoke to the officers who had already arrived and the detectives, who had shown up just prior to me. A young man, just 18 years old, had been found in his backyard shed hanging, with a noose around his neck. The cause of death was all but apparent, and the dark reality of teenage suicide had again come to pass. These are never easy for anyone. Some of the family had arrived back home, and were reeling in the shock and disbelief and grief and a thousand emotions, trying to make some sense of an incomprehensible situation.

Within a couple minutes, a truck pulled up. It was his dad, Ed. He was brought home by a friend, and he came home to his worst nightmare. We throw around terms like “devastated”, “ anguished”, and “completely distraught”, but what I saw that day there are no words for. I saw a man completely torn apart by the inexplicable sudden loss of his son. As a father of teenagers, my heart bled for him. He so desperately wanted to see his son, but we couldn’t allow it. As the detectives went about their tasks and awaited the coroner, family, friends and neighbours came to the house in efforts to console the inconsolable.  Ed and his wife Kelly’s world was turned inside out. And they like us were searching for the one missing answer that might provide some understanding. The answer to “why?”. Why did Kyle Ehinger do this?

Charles this was a nice, quiet neighbourhood, full of working people, some retirees. Nice houses with big lots, nice cars in the driveways. Rarely are we ever called to this area for anything of a serious nature. The “why” wasn’t making sense.  It was the Thursday before the “May two-four” weekend, and like lots of 18 year olds, Kyle had plans. His cell phone messages showed that he had been texting friends about the weekend, who could take who’s quad with them, and how he would pick up his girlfriend on Friday and off they would go. Kyle had lots of friends. He was the captain of his rugby team. He was what we would call “a good kid”. He went to a good school, and by dad’s account, was a workaholic. He was gifted in things mechanical, landing him a job at a local garage where he could show his talent. His Dodge pick-up was his pride and joy, 4 wheel drive and lifted suspension, so he could go mudding with his friends. Yes, his truck was there in front of the house…half full of firewood for the trip, part of a coffee and a sandwich still on the tailgate. Nowhere could be found a note or sign as to why he might do this. The “why” made even less sense.

The coroner came, and set to his work. All indications were as they appeared, and as the coroner spoke to the family, the removal service came to take Kyle away. After placing him on the gurney, he was escorted across the yard in front of the ever growing number of bereaved friends and neighbours. As the gurney stopped in front of the van, his dad came up to the body bag that carried his son, and hugged it with an emotion that I hope no one ever has to experience, and it is one to which script can do no justice.  As he embraced the end of the bag that contained the remains of his beloved son, his simple request was “Please tell me this is his head”. As we nodded in affirmation, he continued to hug. He wanted to be anywhere but there, he wanted Kyle to be anywhere but there. I saw a man who would have absolutely and without question done ANYTHING to change what had happened. The pain of not being able to change it must have been worst of all. The internal drive to protect his child had been negated by one quick and inexplicable act.

As I cleared the scene, I noticed the lawn and street in front of the house were full of young people Kyle’s age. The grief was obvious, and they too wanted the “why”. Upon getting in my truck, I saw a text message on my phone. It was from my 16 year old daughter. It read, “dad, did kyle ehinger die tonite?”. 

So many times, I have tried not to take work home, to insulate my kids from the stuff that kids shouldn’t have to think about. This time, home came to my work. My daughter also knew him, went to the same school as Kyle.  After a deep breath or two, I texted back, “yes, sorry hon”. And like Kyle’s dad I wanted to be there to hug her and protect her, but I couldn’t. Kyle’s loss was stretching further and affecting an ever widening part of the community. 

The following day at his school showed the scope of Kyle’s influence. Teachers and students alike were in a state of disbelief and sadness. With flags at half mast, classes were but a façade. And they too, wanted the “why”. Why would this happen to Kyle? Was it something at school?

As the community prepared for his farewell, the answer to the “why” came from the coroner’s office. The post mortem examination showed that this was not the first time that a rope had been around Kyle’s neck. He had done it many times before. Kyle didn’t want to die. He didn’t mean to kill himself. He was playing what they call, “The Choking Game”, cutting off the flow of oxygen to the brain, potentially causing unconsciousness. The temporary loss of blood flow to the brain causes light headedness, and the rush of blood and oxygen back to the brain when the choking stops gives a temporary “high”. But this time, the choking didn’t stop. Within seconds Kyle would have been unable to stop “the game”. The result was fatal, tragic, and so unnecessary, so wasteful of a life full of potential. When Kyle lost “the game”, a huge part of the community lost “the game”. He didn’t mean to die.

Some game. This is no game. I always thought that when you lost playing a game, you got the chance to play again. Losing at this game offers no replays, and everyone loses for years to come. It destroys lives in so many ways.    

As chance would have it, I would also be working the day of Kyle’s funeral. A procession of hundreds of vehicles made their way to the church, following behind Kyle’s pride and joy, his big white Dodge, which carried Kyle’s casket to the service. I have to admit that I was concerned about what might come to pass with this number of cars, Kyle’s friends in their lifted trucks, hundreds of teens. Their conduct was nothing less than exemplary, showing a great deal of respect for their community and for Kyle’s memory. I think it goes to demonstrate the legacy of Kyle’s nature.

Last Saturday I saw Ed at a baseball tournament. My mind flashed back to when I had first seen him, and I hurt for him all over again. I walked up to him very tentatively and with an outstretched hand asked, “How’s it going?”. After a brief pause and a firm handshake, with a look in his eye that said it all, he replied’ “Sh*tty.”. We talked for a good 15 minutes, and he described how he felt about how Kyle died, how the smallest thing can bring it all back. He said that he had spoken to lots of Kyle’s friends, Kyle didn’t do drugs, wasn’t a drinker, loved his truck and his friends and working . Kyle died getting high another way. A way which probably seemed harmless…no cost, no drug dealers, no hangovers. Heck he had done it so many times before, why should this time be different? But it was so much different.

Ed’s eyes then turned into a look of steeled and desperate determination.  “People have to know about this. This can’t happen again. No one should have to go through this. He was a good kid. This message has to get out there”.

I looked him in the eye, and told him that maybe I could help. I told him I would write about it, and talk to some people I know, maybe they could help too.

I promised him that I would help. Help him and maybe we could save a few lives.

We’ll do it for Kyle.

He was a good kid.

Rob

GREENS GO INDY INSANE

By Menzoid

Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines. The 2012 Honda Indy Toronto kicks off today. Talk about kicking asphalt! The Indy combines a bunch of wonderful elements into one package – state-of-the-art cars; the great outdoors; barbeques; beer. Indeed, the race can attract more than 70,000 spectators over the weekend. And the Honda Indy generates more than $50 million annually in economic revenue for the GTA through ticket sales, job creation, and tourism activities.

So what’s not to love?

Um… not so fast, Mario.

You see, the Mean Greenies apparently aren’t just content with derailing mega-billion pipeline projects. Nope. They’re now targeting fun events such as auto racing, too. Indeed, apparently the Birkenstock Brigade wants the Honda Indy and all the millions it generates to zoom-zoom outta Hogtown. Those race-cars kinda get in the faces of those who love bicycles and windmills. Then there’s the carbon footprint. No sir. Can’t have that.

It brings to mind the anti-Indy crusade led by the Toronto Red Star’s cooky columnist, Joe Fiorito awhile back. Carbon Joe says the time has come to replace the Indy race.

“Let me remind you that the Indy races are a thing of the past; performance car races serve no useful purpose unless it is to wreck machinery, ruin eardrums and waste fossil fuel.”

In fairness, Joe’s not against all car racing, mind you. Rather, wants Toronto to hold “the most technologically advanced electric car race in the world, with huge prizes and glorious honour for the winners. It would be fast. And thrilling. And quiet.”

Joe especially likes the quiet part – you see, he lives near the Indy track. NIMBYism 101, folks. Say, why don’t we just turn the Honda Indy into an electric slot car race held within the Automotive Building? Low carbon footprint. Tiny electric toy cars. Just don’t sit in the cheap seats to watch this nail-biter.

Notably, Say-It-Ain’t-So-Joe is an equal opportunity tech-hater. You see, this visionary also wants Toronto to axe another big tourist draw – the Canadian International Air Show.

Yes, just like the race cars, jets are noisy and they cause pollution. And then there are overtones of militarism.

Writes the Star’s poet laureate: “The sound of warplanes over this city is the sound of death. It’s time we killed the air show. Canada has no need of American fighter jets, nor do we need to thump our chests on a holiday weekend best suited to the quiet appreciation of the corn dog. We are not at risk of invasion.”

Anyone up for Corn-dog-a-palooza?

P.J. O’Rourke best summed up the anti-fun insanity and the threat to our freedom in his 2009 book, Driving Like Crazy. In the chapter entitled, “The End of the American Car”,

O’Rourke laments in verse:

“The Feminists grabbed our women;

The liberals banned our guns;

The health cops snuffed our cigarettes;

The bailout has our funds;

The laws of Breathalyzing put an end to our roadside bars;

Circle the Fords and Chevys, boys – they’re coming to take our cars.”

 

Bottom line: support your local auto race and air show, folks. While you still can.

The faces of the dead in Syria’s unrest

By Babak Dehghanpisheh, Published: July 4 – WASHINGTON POST

 

BEIRUT — Sakher Hallak went all out last year during his first trip to the United States.

He visited his brother in Philadelphia, checked out Times Square in New York and even hit Miami Beach.

Hallak, 43, ran a successful ­eating-disorder clinic in his native Syria, and he had come to the United States for a medical conference. Before he returned, Hallak discussed with his brother the unrest gripping their homeland.

“He told me not to worry about him,” the brother said.

A few weeks later, Hallak’s body was found dumped outside Aleppo, Syria’s largest city. It bore the marks of extreme torture.

Day by day, the death count in Syria climbs as headlines mark dozens of men, women and children shot and stabbed in Houla, or entire families killed in Qubeir.

But beyond the numbers, scant attention is paid to the individuals who have lost their lives in what officials with the United Nations have described as a civil war.

Much of the killing has occurred out of the world’s sight. Syria has become, by some measures, the most dangerous place in the world for journalists, and the vast majority of international coverage of the conflict comes from outside the nation’s borders. U.N. observers, meanwhile, recently put their mission on hold, citing the risk.

No one knows exactly how many Syrians have died, but one of the most conservative counts puts the toll at more than 14,000, with others citing figures of more than 18,000. Among the nations across the Middle East that have been convulsed by popular revolts, ­Syria seems destined to be the bloodiest of the Arab uprisings.

There is no group among the diverse sectarian and ethnic mix in Syria that hasn’t been affected by the violence. Sunni Muslims, Alawites, Kurds, Druze and Christians have all lost family members, in every corner of the country. And the situation appears to be worsening, with world leaders desperately grappling for solutions that remain elusive more than 15 months after the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began.

“Every time someone says there is a turning point, the international community still does not act,” said Radwan Ziadeh, a senior fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace and the director of the nonprofit Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies. “The situation is going to get worse until the international community decides to take action.”

Meanwhile, the conflict claims more victims every day: Dalal Auf, a 15-year-old high school student who loved to draw; Ahmad Sadeq, a pro-government preacher who sermonized against the opposition until he was cut down by bullets at age 36; Basilious Nassar, a 30-year-old Christian priest who taught Byzantine music.

Based on interviews with friends and relatives of these three victims and four others, The Washington Post has compiled a short profile of each. The circumstances of the deaths were checked against a report by the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies and the Syrian Network for Human Rights. Both organizations document the violence in Syria and have an extensive network of contacts inside the country.

Together, the accounts offer a window into the human dimension of a conflict in which the names of the dead, and the details of their lives, have been familiar only to the loved ones left to grieve.

‘It’s unbearable’

When Sakher Hallak, a Sunni Muslim, returned to Syria after his U.S. visit last year, things didn’t go as planned, according to his brother, Hazem. Hallak was briefly detained at the airport and told to report to military intelligence headquarters in his native Aleppo.

On May 23, 2011, military intelligence agents grilled him about his trip to the United States. What was this medical conference all about? Whom had he met? Why had he gone?

He returned for more questioning the next day and assured his family that it was just routine procedure. But on May 25, Hallak, a father of two with a third on the way, was spooked. He asked his mother to pray for him as he once again went in for questioning, his brother said.

Hallak didn’t come home that night, and his family began to panic. On Thursday morning, a close friend called the intelligence headquarters and was able to talk to Hallak, who said he was okay.

A little later, Hallak posted a picture of flowers on his Facebook page and sent a greeting to several friends. That was the last message anyone received from him.

The following day, a motorcycle rider spotted a pair of shoes in a dry creek bed about 15 miles outside Aleppo. The rider went for a closer look and saw a man’s bloody body.

The official autopsy report said Hallak had died by hanging, implying that he had committed suicide. But other doctors at the scene noted signs of vicious torture. His arms, fingers and ribs were broken. His eyes had been gouged, and there were bruises from beatings. There were also signs of genital mutilation and multiple drill holes in his skull. “They drilled him while he was alive,” Hazem Hallak said of his brother. “It’s a very horrific way of dying.”

Even now, Sakher Hallak’s family members say they have no idea why he was killed. They say he was not politically active and did not have ties to the opposition.

His body was wrapped in a white burial shroud that covered the signs of torture before his family was allowed to see him. Two police officers stayed with the family members as they grieved, and the officers insisted that the body be buried the same day.

Hallak’s wife gave birth to a baby girl two weeks after his death. “It’s unbearable,” Hazem Hallak said. “I never thought this kind of pain actually exists.”