Guardian talks about Highlands teen's death from Choking Game
Christopher Pelican came home from school on a Wednesday afternoon and put up Christmas lights around his Brackenridge house. He took his book bag upstairs to his bedroom, telling his guardian, Sue Cranmer, that he was going up to finish some schoolwork and head to bed.
But Christopher didn't come back downstairs in the morning. Cranmer went up to find what the delay was -- he was going to be late for school if he didn't get moving.
"I found him hanging from his doorknob," Cranmer says, with tears welling in her eyes and a scratch forming in her voice, remembering that cold day on Dec. 6. "Can you imagine that• From his doorknob."
Christopher, a 14-year-old eighth-grader at Highlands Middle School, always had a smile on his face, Cranmer says. She had guardianship of her nephew since he was 1.
"He was my little monkey," she says. "He was always smiling. He was a happy kid."
The autopsy ruled Christopher's death a suicide, which is a common ruling when children are found dead by strangulation and are alone. While many parents of children who die this way believe it is because of experimentation with the Choking Game, it is difficult to prove.
Eighty-five percent of people younger than 20 years old have heard of "choking," and 62 percent know someone that has played, according to a Deadly Games Children Play Web site survey.
Twenty percent, according the same survey, have tried it. To put that number in perspective, think about this: 38.4 percent of high school students reported using marijuana, according to a 2005 Office of National Drug Control Policy survey. The Choking Game is not an obscure, unrealistic activity in your child's world, the survey says.
Highlands School District set up counseling sessions and assemblies addressing the issue, hoping to inform the students and to assist them in dealing with the grief of the loss of a classmate.
"Since this has happened, informing and educating parents has been my passion in hopes of saving one child," Pam Williams, of Family Services of Western PA, says.
Cranmer also has launched a mission to help prevent this tragedy from happening again. She has established the Christopher Pelican Scholarship for eight-graders who can not afford the annual field trip to Washington, D.C., Christopher's friends who are in the Christian rock band Feather Light plan to honor his memory in upcoming concerts.
Cranmer also has petitioned for memorial benches at the new skate park in Brackenridge.
Her main priority, however, is to educate parents about the Choking Game and similar risky behaviors. She joins Williams during parent-information meetings and brings a real, but tragic story.
"This is not a game; talk to them," Cranmer said to a roomful of concerned parents at Springdale Junior-Senior High School recently. "Let them know -- they don't always come back."