LINCOLN MIDDLE SCHOOL — The death of a 12-year-old student here last week is being blamed on the “choking game,” which authorities said has become popular mainly among young boys and involves manual strangulation in order to get high without using drugs or alcohol.
Erik Robinson, a sixth grader at Lincoln Middle School, was discovered unconscious in his home April 20 about 5 p.m., apparently after he had passed out from strangling himself with a ligature, police said. He was transported to an area hospital where he was declared brain dead and taken off of life support the next day.
Det. Maury Sumlin, of the Santa Monica Police Department, said an autopsy and interviews with those who knew him led to the conclusion the choking game was to blame.
The case was the first known death of a Santa Monica child because of the choking game but is one of hundreds of accidental deaths around the country attributed to the activity. Several organizations are devoted to preventing kids from playing the choking game, including Games Adolescents Shouldn’t Play (G.A.S.P.), which on its website says kids play the “game” in various ways.
“Some strangle themselves with a belt, a rope or their bare hands; others push on their chest or hyperventilate. When they release the pressure, blood that was blocked up floods the brain all at once. This sets off a warm and fuzzy feeling, which is just the brain dying, thousands of cells at a time,” according to the website.
The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District notified students and parents at the school about Robinson’s death April 21, but referred to it only as stemming from a “tragic accident.” Police described the cause of death for the first time on Wednesday.
Marolyn Freedman, the SMMUSD’s director of student services, said members of the district’s emergency response team set up two “comfort rooms” for students to talk with adults last Thursday.
“There were a number of kids who were very upset and needed counseling,” she said.
On Wednesday, Lincoln Middle School Principal Suzanne Webb described Robinson as a kid with a “bright smile” who loved learning and was known for wearing his “trademark sunglasses” around campus.
“Erik was a just full of life, very happy,” she said.
He was a member of a Boy Scouts troop and had recently volunteered for a conflict resolution program at the school sponsored by the Los Angeles County Bar Association so that he could become a peer mediator next school year.
SMPD’s Sumlin said Robinson’s mother was not prepared to talk publicly about the death of her only child, but added, “She doesn’t want her son’s death to be in vain. Hopefully another kid will learn from this and end this type of activity.”
Sumlin said Robinson had aspired to attend West Point and had wanted to become a Santa Monica police officer.
He said the police department would offer to work with the district on providing education about the dangers of the choking game.
SMMUSD Superintendent Tim Cuneo said there had been no indication that the choking game was a trend among district students.
He said the district will be looking into “how best to work with the families to help them and students as we go forward and learn more information.”
“You want to give kids good information but you don’t want to be alarmist and the other thing you don’t want to do is entice them to experiment,” he said.
A memorial service for Robinson is scheduled for today at 7 p.m. at Kehillat Israel, 16019 Sunset Blvd., Pacific Palisades.
In lieu of flowers, Robinson’s mother has requested that donations be sent to the non-profit group Games Adolescents Shouldn’t Play.