After suicide attempt, combat veteran finds his voice

Andrew O'Brien, an Army veteran of the Iraq War, photographed at his home in Austin, Texas, April 2, 2013, has a tattoo on his back as a permanent reminder of the day in 2010 when he attempted suicide. "It's part of my past, so I put it on my back to keep it behind me," he said. (Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman/MCT)

When Discovery Canyon ninth-grader Sean Hill died Friday in his northern Colorado Springs home after apparently playing the 'choking game, ' he became the second District 20 student to succumb to the game in less than three years.

Gian-Luc Jordan, 12, died in August 2011 just days after being injured while playing the game popular among teenagers.

During the choking game, kids will temporarily asphyxiate themselves to the point of passing out in order to reach a brief high. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said children don't realize the potential consequences that can come from hanging or strangulation.

Hill's family released a statement on Monday through Academy School District-20 officials, saying 'Sean died accidentally while experimenting with what's commonly referred to as the 'choking game.' ' The statement went on to advise other parents and students to 'please make safe decisions. '

Gian-Luc, a seventh-grader at Mountain Ridge Middle School at the time of his death, never regained consciousness after playing the game at his home. The choking game is also known as 'space monkey, ' 'pass-out game, ' 'purple hazing, ' 'cloud nine ' and many other names. Gian-Luc's family created a website - - to educate kids and parents on the topic.

District spokeswoman Nanette Anderson said crisis counselors were at Discovery Canyon on Monday to talk with kids about 'anything that students feel they need to address. ' She said that about a dozen students followed up with more counseling on Tuesday. Anderson said shortly after Gian-Luc's death, the school organized a student and parent night to address risky behaviors. Officials began regular formal conversations that not only touched upon the dangers of such activities as the choking game, but included drug and alcohol prevention programs.

'This something we address district-wide at least once or twice a year in a formal setting, ' Anderson said. 'The schools do it more often than that. '

Statistics on choking game deaths are difficult to find.

CDC pokeswoman Courtney Lenard said the center keeps numbers on choking deaths in general, but does not specifically list the 'choking game ' as a cause of injury or death.

While solid stats are unavailable, an article at said boys are more likely to die from the choking game and most of the deaths are among kids ages 9 to 16.

Danielle Oller, a spokesperson for the El Paso County Health Department, said the state only keeps tabs on deaths attributed to accidental hanging or strangulation. Colorado had five deaths in those categories among 9- to 16-year-olds from 2007 to 2011. All were boys, Oller said.

The CDC advises parents to look for warning signs that their kids might be playing the game. Among the signs are bloodshot eyes, marks on the neck, disorientation after being alone, discussion of the game and others. For a complete list, people can visit

A graveside service at Monument Cemetery and reception at the Lewis-Palmer Administration Building were held Tuesday to remember 15-year-old Sean. who according to an obituary enjoyed Taekwondo, debate, theater and piano.

Sean's family asks that in lieu of flowers, memorial donations can be made in Sean's name to St. Baldrick's Foundation, 1333 South Mayflower Ave., Suite 400, Monrovia, Calif. 91016

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