RALEIGH -- It's called a game, but Kris Marceno's apparent attempt to get high by choking himself ended up deadly.
The Enloe High School sophomore, 15, died at his home on Nov. 2 from accidental asphyxiation, his family said.
His death has schools, churches and communities talking about the “choking game.”
In the “choking game,” some children and young teens choke themselves or each other to experience the euphoric high that precedes blacking out, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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The CDC has identified at least 82 “choking game” fatalities nationwide between 1995 and 2007. Three N.C. youths are believed to have died from the practice 2000 through 2007, according to state medical examiner records.
“This is not a game,” said Krista Regan, a death investigator for the N.C. Child Fatality Review Team. “They think they can stop themselves, but they don't, they can't.”
Kris was alone in his bedroom when it happened, and his death was initially ruled a suicide by Cary police, the family said.
But family members soon began hearing from his friends that he'd choked himself before, even at school.
Cary Police Capt. Michael Williams confirmed the case is open while police await the medical examiner's report.
“It's something big that's out there,” Kris' mother, Bobbi Jo Marceno, said. “There's a lot of kids doing it.”
There were no warning signs that Kris was experimenting with this game, she said.
“He was a great kid. He was smart, funny, just the perfect son,” Marceno said. “Talented beyond belief.”
Kris could make anyone laugh and excelled in acting and drama, she added. “I don't think he took a shower without singing,” she said.
The “choking game” has been around for decades. Youths have passed down techniques in schoolyards and at slumber parties since the 1970s. Now, videos dot the Internet as teens find ways to communicate with peers beyond their neighborhood and school.
The CDC issued an advisory in February, warning parents to be on the lookout for signs that their children might be chasing a high through asphyxiation. Most of the deaths identified by the CDC were boys.
Kris' family is concerned that the practice isn't part of public health conversations, like drug or alcohol abuse.
“It amounts to the same thing,” said Joe Marceno, Kris' father.
“It's the kids' responsibility to tell on their friends because if they don't, they're going to have to go to their funeral,” Bobbi Jo Marceno said.
She plans to start an educational foundation, and will be speaking to a gathering of Kris' friends this weekend.
Adrienne Lumpkin, Enloe's PTSA president, said plans also are being made to talk about the choking game as part of a discussion about risky behaviors at a January meeting. She said they want to get the word out to parents about the dangers.
“It was a wakeup call for teens to be aware and do something about it,” Lumpkin said.
“If you have friends who are doing it, you need to go to their parents. This is something you need to make a stand on.”