BLOOMINGTON — The “choking game” is said to give youths a quick high without using drugs or alcohol, but with one terrifying catch.
“You can die the first time you try,” Christine Hageman told teenagers who gathered after school Thursday to remember her son, Brody Hageman, who died suddenly a year ago of the practice. Even those who don’t die lose brain cells each time, she said.
About 20 Bloomington High School freshmen crossed the school’s lawn to the nearby Bloomington Junior High School they attended last year with Brody Hageman, who was 14 at the time. With tears in their eyes, they hugged, held hands and comforted each other as a stone was dedicated to their friend in what is known as Brody Garden.
On a brick wall adjacent to the garden hangs a plaque with his name and the number 5,225 — the number of days he lived.
Brody Hageman died April 4, 2012, and his friends held a candlelight vigil at the school the next day. At an inquest that followed in May, a Peoria County coroner’s jury declared his death an accident.
Some students may have still thought he intended to take his own life and were affected by that, Christine Hageman said, so she wanted to dispel rumors and comfort them. He never intended to hurt himself; he was looking forward to summer, she said.
“Please know he loved all of you. You guys touched my heart so much,” she said.
Brody Hageman was adventurous, social and active and enjoyed the outdoors and his eighth-grade friends.
His mother said she didn’t notice any signs that her son was playing a dangerous game that goes by other names such as “gasp,” “the fainting game” or “space cowboy.” It involves self-strangulation or placing great pressure on the chest.
“There were no signs; I never would have guessed,” she said.
Later, when she read about the warning signs, she realized he did have headaches and stayed in his room, but she thought at the time “he’s a teenager” and that was typical.
Parents warn children about drugs, alcohol and tell them to wear bicycle helmets, but this isn’t something students are warned about, Christine Hageman said.
Brody Hageman’s friend James Alexander, a BHS freshman, helped arrange for the stone and ceremony with the aid of his parents.
“I didn’t feel I had done enough; I wanted to do something more,” said James, who had been friends with Brody Hageman since they were second-graders at Oakland Elementary School.
Alexander’s’ mother, Amy Alexander, led the ceremony.
“Make good choices, be safe, be kind to others (in memory of Brody),” she said. “It will do us all some good.”
James Alexander read a poem his longtime friend had written.
“I remember the first time Brody read that poem in poetry club; I can still hear his voice,” recalled another student.
At the ceremony, Brody’s father, Todd Hageman, and wife, Heather, of Bloomington passed around a photo of his son. Each student held it and told a memory of their friend.
Friends and family said he was funny, energetic, happy, supportive and very giving; the classroom lit up when he walked in, and he was “a really good brother.”
He had a “bounce to his walk” and was “a fun little stuntman.”
Others said he was joyful, had a great heart, huge eyes and spunky hair.
Many wore green ribbons or clothing in honor of his favorite color. Christine Hageman handed out tri-colored ribbons and pamphlets about the game.
Freshman Ali Cruz, 15, hadn’t been in Brody’s Garden before even though it was planted only a few days after his death. “I didn’t have the strength,” she said. She said she finds the strength now in knowing that his organs were donated and part of him lives on.
“We just love him and miss him very much,” said freshman Cearra Jackson, 16.