The night before she died in her Northwest Side home, she had come home from a party, went into her room and an hour later came out and asked her mom if she could sleep with her. In the morning, her mother made pancakes for her. Rebekah took the dog out for its morning walk. When her mother left for work, each told the other, “I love you.”
When Barbara Toia came home from work Tuesday afternoon, she found Rebekah hanging by her neck from a cloth belt attached to the top of her bedroom door. She was not breathing.
Both girls, who didn’t know each other, succumbed to the deadly game, they say. The point of the game is to induce a feeling of euphoria by temporarily depriving the brain of oxygen by applying pressure to the neck until the person passes out.
Teens have been finding information — and instructions — about the choking game for years on the Internet, where it is variously known as Passout, the Fainting Game and Good Kids High, among other names.
In 2008, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 82 deaths attributed to it and other strangulation activities from 1995-2007. Most victims — unlike the two recent Chicago cases — were boys 11 to 16 years old.
Barbara Toia said she had no clue her daughter was engaging in the dangerous activity.
“There were no signs,” she said. “She asked for permission to do everything. She was a really responsible kid, no alcohol or drugs — a mama’s girl. She was so mature.”
When Barbara Toia got home from work late Tuesday afternoon, she called out for Rebekah but didn’t get an answer. She saw both the television and the computer on. She went up to her daughter’s bedroom and found her.
“I found her hanging. . .not hanging in the air. . .she was on tippy toes.”
“Hopefully my daughter’s death is for a purpose,” she continued, saying she wants to focus attention on the choking game and prompt parents to watch more closely for signs and seek help if necessary.
She said she plans on making herself available to other families when she is done with her own grieving.
Just this morning, Toia found something that indicated her daughter had been engaging in the choking game for some time. It was a jump rope her daughter had used to train for softball. But one of the handles had been removed to turn the rope into a noose.
A wake for Rebekah will be held from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. today at Cumberland Chapel, 8300 W. Lawrence Ave. in Norridge. A memorial service will be held 10 a.m. Saturday at South Park Church, 1330 Courtland Avenue in Park Ridge. Barbara Toia says everyone is welcome.
Tonight, a Chicago police detective is expected to show up at a barbecue in Oriole Park near the Toia home to talk about the dangers of the choking game.
Angelena was found hanging in her bedroom closet at her Northwest Side home on July 28 and died three days later. Police say she also had played the choking game.
“Angelena had told me about it, (that) some of the the kids had been playing this game,” said her mother, Violette Ohanessian. “I said tell me about about the game, it sounds absolutely ridiculous to me.
“I was absolutely convinced there was no way my child would do this. She wouldn’t do such a thing.”
Her father found her with a noose around her neck in her bedroom and cut her down. Her mother, a nurse, administered CPR. Angelena, who would have been a freshman next term at Resurrection College Prep High School, was pronounced dead three days later at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge.
While Angelena was in the hospital, her father found video on her cell phone of some of her friends playing the game. “My daughter took video of other kids doing this,” her mother said. “She knew about it and had been doing it with them,” he mother said.
“And she made a very bad choice.”
One police official said this morning that children may be playing the game because it’s not illegal.
“They don’t want to get in trouble,” he said, “so they’re trying to get a high. It’s not new for kids trying to get that feeling, but it’s got deadly consequences. This can become an addictive behavior.”
Here are the warning signs listed in the Chicago police alert:
• Strange bruising or red marks around the neck.
• Bloodshot eyes.
• Bed sheets, belts, T-shirts, ties, or ropes tied in strange knots and/or found in unusual places.
• Visiting Web sites or chat rooms mentioning asphyxiation or the choking game.
• Curiosity about asphyxiation (asking questions like “how does it feel?” or “what happens if?”).
• Locked or blocked bedroom or bathroom doors.
• Frequent, often severe headaches.
• Changes in attitude; becoming more aggressive.
• Wear marks on furniture (bunk beds or closet rods).
Police urged parents with questions to call Grand Central detectives at (312) 746-8282.