January 7, 2006 started out like any other Saturday for Kelly LaRocque of St. Joseph Island.
Happily living with his parents and sister, 18-year-old Kelly enjoyed watching TV that morning, asked his mother Debbie to book a haircut appointment for him for the following week, fixed himself a snack and went to his room (where he loved to read books and movie scripts) around 12 p.m.
Six hours later, Debbie went to check on Kelly, as he had not eaten in several hours.
Debbie found Kelly dead in his room, on his knees with a rope around his neck.
Debbie, her husband Ovide and daughter Alicesa (then 15), were horrified, heartbroken and shocked.
"The attendance at his funeral was over 500…he had that kind of charisma that just attracted you to him because he was honest, he was down-to-earth, he was funny, people loved his humour and his wit," Debbie LaRocque told SooToday.
His death was initially considered a suicide by police, but it was later determined Kelly had died as a result of taking part in "The Choking Game."
"The coroner told me within two minutes of being in Kelly's room he knew it was not suicide, but then he had to go about proving it," LaRocque said.
The "game" kills or severely and permanently injures children, usually nine to 16 years of age (victims, however, can be younger or older).
The participant reaches a brief state of euphoria because of the interruption of the flow of oxygen and blood to the brain.
After pressure on the arteries in the neck is released, blood flow resumes and causes a rush feeling.
Children often choke each other to bring on the rush feeling, or participants will use a rope, thread or cord to achieve this if they are alone, thinking they will be able to release the pressure just before unconsciousness occurs.
Seizures, damage to the eyes, heart attacks, strokes and death may occur because of oxygen deprivation.
A child will suffer permanent brain damage or death after three minutes of oxygen deprivation.
Some who have died were alone for as little as 15 minutes by the time they were found, and by then it was too late.
There are no 'pros' or 'amateurs' in this game, no right or wrong way to play it.
In the 10 years since Kelly's death, Debbie LaRocque has been urging children and their parents to be aware of this deadly activity, delivering presentations at schools and various public places, setting up an information booth whenever and wherever possible.
LaRocque said it is difficult to put a number on how many people have died as a result of the Choking Game, but thousands of people, most of them teens, die or are left with permanent brain damage because of it.
"A lot of families choose not to put their kids' names on an official website or Facebook page and many are still being wrongly called suicides, because what else can police call it, the line is blurred," LaRocque said.
Young people are still losing their lives to this so-called game.
"I'm part of two private Facebook groups of parents who have lost children to this activity, and we've been introduced to a Mom in the States who has joined our group and her son died six weeks ago," LaRocque said.
Through Facebook, LaRocque reaches out with a caring heart to families who have lost a loved one through this activity, but tragically and ironically, Facebook and other Internet media have worsened the problem.
"Just through talking to other Moms, some but not all of the more recent deaths have been through social media introducing kids to this."
"If you Google 'choking game' there are videos that come up of kids, older and younger, actually doing it, sometimes in a group situation and sometimes by themselves."
"When I do a presentation I often mention that, because 10 years ago, most families had one computer in their house but now kids walk around with their computer in their hand (smart phones) so they have that immediate access…in our home we had one computer in a very open area.
Forensic investigation of the family computer by police after Kelly's death determined there were no websites he visited that would have influenced him to commit the risky act that killed him.
"The coroner said he would have learned this from friends," LaRocque said.
"It appeared from evidence this was Kelly's first time doing this."
"Some kids might say 'oh, maybe he just did it wrong'…whether you've played it before and survived and you think you're okay, the next time could be your last."
"Any one time you do this could trigger an immediate heart attack, stroke or worse, and every single time it's played it kills brain cells."
Memorial photos of choking game victims show happy, healthy, athletic, good-looking young people, not "mugshot" images of troubled people one might expect to see.
Kelly LaRocque had a strong Christian faith, was active in his evangelical church, planned to study cinematography at Canadore College and live a full life.
So why do these seemingly well-adjusted young people indulge in this deadly behaviour?
"What I can grasp from it is they call this activity 'the good kid's high,'" Debbie LaRocque said.
"There are no drugs or alcohol involved, and I think when it's introduced it's in a group situation."
"Kelly made wise choices and said no to drugs, alcohol and smoking…he would normally have been the one to say 'don't do this.'"
"Kelly made an unwise decision to experiment with something he did not fully understand the dangers of and that action resulted in his death. He made a mistake."
Someone, somewhere along the way, perhaps an unwise friend of Kelly's, led him to try the game, LaRocque said.
"I do know when it's introduced, it's introduced in a way that it doesn't look dangerous from the observer's point of view…they're not told about the possibility of a seizure or a heart attack or stroke or death when playing this, they're told the worst thing that will happen is that they'll pass out."
"If you watch some of these YouTube videos, that's what the kids see, they see kids passing out and laughing and joking afterward, they don't think of this as something they could die from."
"Part of my audience is parents."
"When they say 'my child wouldn't do that' I'll say 'I was a parent that thought like that, and look at me now.'"
"Don't think this can't happen to you, because it can," LaRocque said, holding back tears.
"I can carry on, I can do this because I have a strong faith in God…I'm holding on to Jesus" LaRocque said, adding she believes she'll be reunited with her son in heaven.
LaRocque said she views herself as someone who has been led by God to use this tragedy as a way to warn and comfort others, and also to lead others to faith in Christ.
LaRocque uses a strand of beads in presentations she gives, each bead representing a Choking Game victim since Kelly's death in 2006, with more beads added as more victims are reported.
Each bead has the name and age of a victim upon it, and the lengthening strand of beads is a powerful visual reminder of the deadly Choking Game.
To find out more about the Choking Game, including how to look for warning signs of choking game activity going on in your home, click here
If you want to book a presentation by Debbie LaRocque regarding the dangers of the Choking Game, call 705-246-2714.