Dr. Thomas Andrew had two deaths that he believes were due to "the
choking game" within six weeks.
In September of 2001 Dr. Thomas Andrew, chief medical examiner of New Hampshire, investigated the death of a 13 year-old-boy found hanged in the basement of his home. Dr. Andrew ruled the death a suicide.
According to Dr. Andrew, it was an open and shut case. "It certainly looked like a suicide. Everything, a least in our minds, pointed to suicide."
Shortly after that, the boy's mother contacted Dr. Andrew. "She was a bit uncomfortable with the certification of the death as a suicide."
Family: not a suicide
Kelly Lightizer didn't believe her son—a happy, friendly, outgoing boy--would have taken his own life. When her son Michael went missing August 1, 2001, his family looked all over for him. Bill Lightizer, Michael's dad, found his son hanging from a beam in the basement of their New Hampshire home.
Soon after that, Kelly started searching the internet for answers. She came across websites about "the choking game" and it made sense to her that this was the cause of Michael's death. Kelly gave Dr. Andrew information she had pulled off the internet, emails Michael had exchanged with friends. "She brought up this concept of what's called Space Monkey…these asphyxia games or choking games."
Another suspicious death
Six weeks later and 80 kilometres away, Thomas Fortin, 11, died on November 14, 2001. Dr. Thomas Andrew was the chief medical examiner on the case. He now faced the deaths of two boys under very similar circumstances, in two neighbouring towns.
Penny Fortin recalls the moment she found her son Thomas. "It looked like he was kneeling up against the wall and his back was facing me. Then I saw the dog's leash attached to his neck and the other end was hanging up on a coat rack. And then I just ran over to him and took him down and started to do CPR on him."
Just like Kelly Lightizer, Penny couldn't believe her son took his own life.
She says her son was an outgoing well-adjusted child. "Thomas was too kind, too kind-hearted to have a dark side."
and Thomas Fortin played the "choking game".
Thomas (right) was playing alone the day he died.
Playing the choking game
Penny's seven-year-old son, Daniel, would hold the key to his brother's death
and help Dr. Andrew re-open Michael Lightizer's case and re-think other cases.
According to Dr. Andrew, Daniel said they had played the choking game together. "He
said Tommy was playing Space Monkey. And he was playing by himself. He was apparently
trying to increase the amount of time that he could remain conscious while playing
this game, sort of in a competitive spirit with some of the other boys who were
apparently playing the game."
For Dr. Andrew the second case opened his eyes to the choking game. "This second case came along at least to educate us to the fact that this game really did exist and this was not parent over-reaching or trying to respond in some grief driven way to what was really a suicide."
Dr. Andrew found a study
by Vancouver pediatrician, Dr. Andrew Macnab,
on the internet. The study's conclusions confirmed the choking game in a scientific
Dr. Andrew changed the ruling in Michael's case from suicide to accidental. "To
simply assume that every hanging is a suicide is, in my estimation, a mistake",
says Dr. Andrew. He says that asking the right questions of the right people
will help determine the manner of death. "I don't mean the parents. The parents
won't be aware of the child's activity."