The Choking Game


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.