DIETRICH • Dietrich school officials are educating students on the dangers of the “choking game” after their 10-year-old classmate died this weekend.
Austin Rasmussen died Saturday as a result of self-inflicted strangulation after playing the game alone at home. He’s the son of Brandon and Stephanie Rasmussen.
Dietrich School District Superintendent Neal Hollingshead described Austin as a “happy kid” with a bright future.
“It’s a real tragedy,” he said.
Austin’s father, Brandon, said Wednesday that he doesn’t have any comments to share at this point. Eventually, he said, he wants to educate others about the dangers of the game that killed his son.
Area school officials are concerned about increasing reports of the game, in which participants experience a brief high after choking themselves or others, cutting oxygen flow to the brain.
Lincoln County Deputy Coroner Keith Davis is out of the office this week and wasn’t available Thursday for comment. Assistant Deputy Coroner Mike Bright didn’t return a phone call Wednesday, but told the Idaho Mountain Express that Austin was home alone in his bedroom when he died after choking himself.
At the 260-student Dietrich School, Hollingshead said grief counseling has been available to students this week.
There was also a presentation about the game for the school’s students in grades 2-12. Information was given to parents of kindergarten and first-graders.
“We have cautioned them about how dangerous the game is and not to play it,” Hollingshead said.
Not the First Time
This isn’t the first time the topic has come up in the Magic Valley. In May 2011, 12-year-old Twin Falls resident Skyler Smith died after playing the choking game.
His father, Joel Smith, wants to raise awareness about the topic through schools. His goal is to start with the Twin Falls School District and possibly expand to others.
He said he feels a sense of guilt about Rasmussen’s death since he hasn’t been to schools.
“I feel that, personally, I might have been able to save the boy’s life through working with schools,” he said Wednesday.
Smith has talked with Twin Falls School District administrators over the past year about possibly making presentations to parents and faculty members.
Superintendent Wiley Dobbs said he discussed some ideas with Smith, but no plans were finalized. Smith said he’d need liability insurance in order to make presentations at schools.
“They’ve created all these loopholes for me to do this,” he said. “I think that’s completely unfair.”
The choking game is “spreading like wildfire,” Smith said, but some schools want to sweep the topic under the rug.
Dobbs said the topic has been taken seriously and was brought up last year among school principals, the district’s safety committee and parent teacher organizations.
“Our general consensus was that this would not be a good topic to present to student groups,” he said, because it might not be effective. Plus, he said parents need to be involved.
Dobbs said his understanding is that Smith would work with a nationally-affiliated group to make a presentation about the choking game.
Whenever a presenter wants to come in, Dobbs said the school district has to “make sure those things are legitimate” and that the presentation would be helpful.
“We’re available to have those conversations,” he said.