The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


The choking game

Signs of this adolescent activity are subtle, easily missed

After Zach died, it all became so clear.

The knotted shoelaces tied to his bedpost, all the charging cords that were lost and replaced, the bruises around his neck, the headaches and the need for utter privacy.

All were indications Zach was playing the choking game, where adolescents and teenagers get a brief high by being choked by another person or by choking themselves.

If you think Zach was a kid living in the fast lane, think again. He was a jokester, a clown. He loved playing the trumpet in band and was an acolyte at Lutheran Church of the Master, Troy, Mich., where his mom is parish worker. Zach dreamed of the day he would drive his dad's red Chevy Silverado and talked about becoming an Eagle Scout. He was a loving kid who would flop onto his big sister's lap just to make her groan or walk into a lamppost to get a laugh from his buddies.

michael d. watsonHe was 13 when he died alone in his parent's basement behind the furnace, unable to free himself from a noose he had made.

His dad, Tony Dzbanski, a retired police officer, found him. He has to dig deep to talk about his son. Wedged into the corner of a couch in the pastor's office at Lutheran Church of the Master, his voice is steady. He recalls seeing a small bruise on Zach's neck, perhaps a couple of inches long and nearly an inch wide. He thought Zach might be having trouble with kids at school.

"I saw the bruise on his neck and asked him to tell me what was going on," Tony said. "He said he was just screwing around, and I knew what he was saying, I used to get into fights when I was that age."

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