Youths inundate counseling offices, clinics, hold discussions on 'choking game'
Before her death this week at age 15, Tess Eisiminger was rehearsing the Keith Urban country song "Tonight I Wanna Cry" on the piano. The choice seems an apt one for the way many people are feeling this week.
Hundreds of mourners gathered Thursday at Hessel Church in Sebastopol to say goodbye to the Sonoma Academy sophomore who strangled herself Saturday in a workshop outside her family's Willowside Road home west of Santa Rosa.
The emotional service capped a somber week in which distraught teens flooded school counseling offices, peer groups and emergency clinics. Others sought comfort on MySpace.com and other Internet sites.
"All the counselors are bombarded with kids reeling from this," said Kathy Vyenielo, a counselor at Ridgway, a continuation high school in Santa Rosa.
Eisiminger's death also has sparked campus-wide discussions on a number of sensitive issues and concerns, among them the "choking game," which some members of Eisiminger's family, including her mother, blame for her death.
Eisiminger died after she went into a workshop Saturday afternoon and climbed into a detached pickup bed suspended in the air by chains. There she looped an electrical cord through the chains and around her neck.
Kari Solem, her mother, said she believes her daughter's intent was to fall backward out of the loop after passing out. She said her daughter instead fell forward on her knees and suffocated. Solem found her and dialed 911.
Solem said she picked her daughter up from a party at about 1:30 a.m. Friday and the teen finally went to sleep about two hours later. After waking up Saturday morning, Eisiminger told her mother that she'd argued with her boyfriend.
If Eisiminger was upset by that, she didn't reveal it when she phoned a friend at about 1:30 p.m. Saturday to see if he needed a ride to a birthday party that night.
"She seemed happy and excited," said Chance Thorson, 16, who attends Maria Carrillo High School and met Eisiminger at a Christian bible camp.
Faith was important to Eisiminger, who came from blue-collar roots -- her mother owns three auto body shops -- but had aspirations to see her name in lights.
"Tess could play an instrument like an angel or she could weld on her father's destruction derby car," said her grandmother, Shirley Byrd-Solem.
The choking game has many names, among them Space Monkey, Flatliner, Airplaning and Gasp, and its popularity is fueled in part by the Internet.
Kids get a head-rush or high by cutting off the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain, then releasing the pressure to let the supply back in.
"It gives you a kind of drug-induced euphoria without the drugs," said Dr. Joseph Hageman, an Evanston, Ill., pediatrician and author of a paper on the activity.
He said the game typically involves one person choking another as they pass out. It is even more dangerous when done alone, using belts, ropes or other objects.
Adam Buxbaum, an 18-year-old Santa Rosa Junior College freshman, said he played the game once when he was a student at Analy High School. He said he fainted for about 10 seconds.
"I don't remember passing out, but I remember waking up," he said. "I was dizzy like from dehydration or something."