Turning our Tragedy into Action to Combat Viral and Deadly Online Challenges


Erik Robinson April 1, 2010

Arguably the deadliest and most viral of all online challenges are pass out activities, commonly known in the media as “The Choking Game” or "Blackout Challenge" which have been around for centuries.  Unlike auto-erotic asphyxiation  (AeA), teens and tweens have been experimenting with this for non-sexual reasons (curiosity, peer pressure, the mistaken belief that it is safer than drugs, etc.) because they are unaware of the dangers.

This generations-old issue continues to experience resurgence as a result of TikTok, YouTube and other social media, making the internet a cyber-playground.  Kids learn this deadly activity from other kids all across the world and believe other kids when they say it is harmless.  Kids lack effective education to combat what they see on the web and across social media platforms, making them think that these challenges are innocent fun, putting them all at risk for injury and death.

These challenges differ from other risky activities is that they:

  • are not illegal and has no deterrent of legal consequence;
  • do not require acquisition of a product;
  • can be “played” alone; and
  • interrupts basic brain function, therefore it is impossible to know when brain damage or death will occur.

Equal-Opportunity Dangers:  Challenges know no racial, cultural, religious or socio-economic boundaries ...

While studies estimate 6 – 16% of teens have participated in pass-out challenges, anecdotal reports indicate the numbers to be much higher.  News articles regularly articles cite these particular challenges as one of the top dangerous behaviors that need to be on parents’ radar.

Statistically it has been considered an aberration because the numbers of deaths and injuries attributed to this challenge appear small, hence unimportant.  But statistics do not tell the story.  There are no public health databases to monitor these activities.  In addition, there is no standardized way for law enforcement and medical examiners to determine cause of death.  As a result, most deaths from these challenges are misclassified as suicides.  And challenge-related injuries are rarely reported with the correct attribution.  Even when a correct determination is made, many families bear their grief in silence because of shock and shame, “How could my child have done something so stupid?  What was s/he thinking?”

Erik Robinson is one such victim of this deadly Online Challenge ...

My son Erik died April 21, 2010 from what was then commonly called the Choking Game.  He was a normal, healthy 6th grader at Lincoln Middle School in Santa Monica, California - an "A" student, avid athlete and boy scout and fully engaged in life. His dream was to go to West Point, enter the military and then law enforcement. He was the opposite of a youth "at risk".  Credible evidence indicates that Erik's first exposure to this challenge was during school the day before he tried it at home and died.

At first we said that Erik died from a tragic accident until one schoolmate came forward and corroborated what the police maintained.  A reporter wanted to write a story that Erik was cyber-bullied into suicide which was totally false.  I was so incensed that I decided to go public with the truth.

Thus began the journey called Erik’s Cause ...

We believe that knowledge is power and that prevention education is the most effective way to combat the rampant popularity of these challenges.  With the valuable input of many professionals, parents and kids, we have created an exceptional non-graphic skill-based training module that addresses the dangers (as well as risk activities in general) in a way that does not make kids curious to try it while building character skills to help kids say “no” to risk-taking behavior in general.  The training is standardized and can be easily replicated by any teacher or presenter.  We also offer education for parents which helps them talk with their children about this activity as well as other sensitive topics.  

With the 2021 Congressional Hearings and Whistleblower Testimony we learned even more ...

Prior to the 2021 Congressional hearings and whistleblower testimony, we thought that a child needed to know a "name" of a challenge, type it in and click on the actual video.  But as a result of the hearings and testimony we learned that Apps and platforms use algorithms to specifically target our youth with challenges and encourage them to try them without any care or understanding of whether or not they are safe.

For example, TikTok has a "For You" section that recommends videos that the App thinks the user might like.  Frequently these challenges are in this "For You" section.  The Apps don't simply don't care about safety.  They only want "clicks" and "likes," and to keep the user online for as long as possible to make bigger profits from advertisers.  

Decades ago, talk of substance abuse prevention in schools was unthinkable.  Bullying was a taboo subject until it gained national attention.  We believe the time has come to bring these challenges out of the shadows and into public awareness so our children can be saved from this epidemic and families can be spared the grief of losing a child to this preventable activity.

Erik's dream was to be a soldier - he wanted to save lives.  My mission is to honor his legacy by saving the lives of other kids and sparing families from this type of blindsiding loss. Please share your story with us, tell a friend, share with others, join our cause and save kids' lives.

Thank you, Judy Rogg (Erik's mom)

Click below to support KOSA (Kids Online Safety Act):

Click below to view part of our training module


Click below to access interactive victim map
Victim Map

Debunking the myth about educating kids
The Erik's Cause training program does NOT make kids curious to play!  

click below to view data



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Showing 44 reactions

commented 2022-08-31 14:38:50 -0700 · Flag
I’m so sorry to hear about Jennifer, Mark. Thank you for your kind words.
commented 2022-08-29 14:54:05 -0700 · Flag
Diana…I am sorry to hear about your lose. My daughter, Jennifer also died in a similar way in 2001. She was going to graduate grammar school in a month. We planned a Disney Cruise and was scheduled to go a Christian high school in the fall. Things did not “add up”. Her death was a total shock to everyone. We found out about the fainting game thru the priests at her AWANA group. The coroner listed her death as a suicide on the death certificate. She did not want to change it after pleading with her for over an hour. I contacted the police and the detective who worked at the school started an investigation and completed a 10 page report and sent it to the coroner. She changed the death certificate and listed her death as an accident. Maybe it was easier since it was 20 years ago and in the state of Wisconsin. I feel your pain and frustration regarding the cause of death. You want truth to be listed. You don’t want the stigma of suicide to hang over your family when you know deep down that it did not happen. Thank you for sharing your story.
commented 2022-07-03 16:32:07 -0700 · Flag
I’ve seen my older friends try something similar to this when I was young. You never think it would come back full circle with such a tragedy.
commented 2022-07-03 15:27:12 -0700 · Flag
I did something like this way back in the 80s when I was a teen. At the time, I never knew it could be deadly. I am very fortunate to still be here today.
commented 2019-05-15 18:26:13 -0700 · Flag
Christine…I am so sorry to hear about your loss. My daughter, Jennifer also passed away from playing the choking game on April 22, 2001. She was 14 years old. Prior to her passing, we also found marks on her neck but thought it was an allergic reaction to something. When she initially passed, we thought she took her own life. After talking to classmates and clergy, we found out about the pass out game. We had the police investigate and they determined she died from the game.
It’s been one year since your son’s passing. I been to various support groups and they told me the second year is harder than the first. Unfortunately, the realization of death sets in during the second year. It’s going to be tough but it sounds like you have a support system. I always kept Jennifer’s spirit alive. I hope you keep Sean’s memory moving forward. It may be uncomfortable for people but too bad for them.
It will time for you and your family to heal. You will never forget Sean but he will always be there in spirit. I suggest going to counseling and support groups for bereaved parents. It really helped me.
commented 2019-05-15 17:44:45 -0700 · Flag
On a Sunday afternoon in Jan. 2018, I found my son Sean hanged from a light fixture in his bedroom. He had just shared some funny videos with my husband and I before he went upstairs. My husband lost his first wife to suicide and has said he never saw a single sign of suicide. His sister came immediately after. She works for law enforcement. She went through every piece of paper in his room, all his things, and found nothing odd except his robe’s belt had weird knots that she recognized from her background. A few months earlier I noticed a mark on his neck. It wasn’t a hickey, but more like a rope burn. I talked to him about the choking game and stressed how dangerous it is. He told me it was from rough housing with friends.

I cry everyday. My mother cries everyday. We are all struggling to live and be happy because we know that’s what Sean would have wanted. I hope if anyone reads this is thinking about doing this, they think about the utter devastation their death will cause their family.

Sean had turned 17 only six weeks before he died. He was my only child and the only grandchild on both sides. The pain and devastation is beyond description. Sean should be graduating from high school next week; instead his remains are in an urn in his bedroom.
commented 2019-04-17 15:10:35 -0700 · Flag
Hi Andrea,
I am so sorry about David and I know the torture you are going through. We lost our son Adam to this in 2005, he was 12. I remember that if the kids have been doing this more than once, the coroner can find old bruising in the neck area and petechiae which is like a rash but it is broken blood vessels under the skin. This proves that the victim has been doing this for a while. I know there is a video out there of a coroner that found this research on how to investigate this. I know our coroner was just too busy to be bothered in investigating the cause and just left it inconclusive.

I hope this helps and I hope that you find peace. Sometimes the world just seems so upside down.
commented 2019-03-29 16:03:54 -0700 · Flag
Hi Judy,

First and foremost, we are sorry for your loss. My family and I are currently going through this. My brother David passed away 3/18/19 and WE KNOW he did not commit suicide. The medical examiners “opinion” was falsely reported based on pure physical evidence and failure to perform the correct research. We even sent them resoueces on the choking game and it was as if it was never viewed. A psychological autopsy was NOT performed and we would love your help. Could you email us more information on psychological autopsies. We are not closing this case without getting this information shared!

Thank you.

Please email [email protected]
commented 2019-03-26 19:22:47 -0700 · Flag
I am truly sorry for Erik’s and all of your losses. My son Adam died doing this on 10/25/16. He was 25. We insisted it couldn’t have been suicide because he was always happy, had lots of plans, and nothing ever bothered him! We were sure he had been killed by someone who staged a suicide. We insisted that investigators find out who killed him. We were shocked two years later to finally see his phone history where he had researched all kinds of things related to this deadly activity on the day of his death. Adam was never afraid of anything and probably thought nothing could ever hurt him. Well, this one proved him wrong. Parents, please know there is no age limit to this. Please talk to your children no matter what age. Adam had his own business, was a Marine and was not stupid. What he did was stupid and if he did it almost anyone could.
commented 2018-09-19 11:26:45 -0700 · Flag
Hi Robin,
This is Judy Rogg, Director of Erik’s Cause. You ask an excellent question. To piggy-back onto Mark Cernekee’s comment, there is a process called a psychological autopsy during which the police do a deep dive into the intent of the victim.
Although the physical evidence of a choking game death may look similar to a suicide, it is the intent that is key, and a full investigation into the history of the victim is what helps to show intent. But these take a lot of time and many police departments do not have the resources to devote to this; they rush to a decision based on the physical evidence which does not show intent. Still, sadly, many coroners ignore the investigator reports that uncover evidence of playing this “game,” citing the physical evidence only. Both of these issues lead to misclassification of many choking game deaths as suicide.
Please see the document on our Downloads page called “Suicide or Choking Game – Getting it Right!” I can also email you more info about the psychological autopsy if you want.
commented 2018-09-19 11:03:22 -0700 · Flag
Look for marks around the neck. We saw them and asked if she had an allergic reaction to something and she said yes. Little did we know, she was playing this game by herself. We found out from teachers in school that they were playing this game. The police investigated and find out her friends were playing the game.
commented 2018-09-19 06:54:21 -0700 · Flag
How are we to know the difference between death by suicide and death by playing the choking game? What are the differences?
commented 2018-03-24 06:18:24 -0700 · Flag
When I was growing up in the 60’s, the “game” used to be different. Kids used to give other kids “bear hugs” to lose their breath to get a buzz. Unfortunately today, they try to literally choke each other to lose consciousness. They would play this game instead of drinking or doing drugs. You may never know if your child is playing this game.
commented 2018-03-24 02:58:13 -0700 · Flag
This “game” has been around since the mid 1990’s. Sadly, back then, my coworker lost her daughter to the fainting “game”. I put the word “game” in parentheses because it isn’t a game; it’s fatal. I’m sending hugs and prayers to mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, neighbors, classmates, teachers, coworkers and communities affected by this fatal “game”.
commented 2018-03-18 17:18:48 -0700 · Flag
My daughter, Jennifer Cernekee, also died from playing the fainting game on April 22nd, 2001 in Kenosha, WI. We also thought she took her own life but after a police investigation, it was proven that she was playing the game. We had the death certificate corrected to show it was an accident. I feel for all of the parents on this site who also lost a child from this deadly game.
commented 2018-02-05 12:25:15 -0800 · Flag
Sure do miss that young man! Alas, we are still seeing way too many kids die from this activity, and the Youtube posts promoting this game among youngsters are very concerning.
commented 2017-11-28 11:03:55 -0800 · Flag
I teach 7th grade health and am so thankful for Erik’s Cause. Our district has adopted this wonderful awareness program and I love to see the light come on in students’ eyes when they realize the physical ramifications this can have and how dangerous the choking game really is – it is no game at all. Our community has lost too many to this in the past. Judy, thank you for the time and energy you put into this educational information that we can share with our students. All kids need to be aware of the dangers.Parents and teachers need to share this information with their children.
commented 2017-11-22 07:58:26 -0800 · Flag
My name is Clauber, I’m From Brazil, I’m 27 years old today, when I was 12 years old I used to play choking game, but I stopped when I almost died, I had near-death experience, I appeared in a white place, with no walls, no floor, absolutely empty space, I didn’t remmember my name, or why I was dead, but I knew I was dead. So suddenly appeared many human shapes with no faces and started to fast approaching and screaming loud, so I was pulled down, I saw the place I was from the sky and falling down I felt I entering my body and I woke up without memory, I stayed afraid and with no memory for few minutes. I know this testimony may seem strange, I don’t know if this events happened inside my brain or in a spiritual dimention, I just want to ask all people don’t do this game, it’s dangerous, as you can see in this website many people died doing this game, please parents talk with your children about it, show them many people died doing this. I fell so sorry for all you losses, I hope your cause make many people aware of this danger, I wasn’t aware, I was a smart kid, but kids don’t have good sense of danger, it’s important to talk with the kids about this.
commented 2017-05-18 02:06:56 -0700 · Flag
Sarie Harmse

I am from South Africa. We lost my grandson on the age of 14 two years ago of the choking game and we all miss him so terribly.
commented 2017-05-17 15:14:20 -0700 · Flag
I lost a boy scout in my troop to this, Simon died two months ago to this senseless tragedy. Thanks for shining the light on this.
commented 2017-01-09 11:39:55 -0800 · Flag
I have a 14 year old & was totally surprised to find out about this choking game I totally agree it needs to be stopped parents need to have some type of awareness of the symptoms or what it looks like when your child has tried this game
commented 2017-01-09 10:45:41 -0800 · Flag
My heart breaks for the parents
commented 2017-01-09 10:44:57 -0800 · Flag
I use to play back in 1999 to 2001. Looking back i realize it wasnt worth it. Sad to know how easily peer pressure can influence a child.
commented 2016-12-17 11:09:38 -0800 · Flag
I’m saddened beyond words for you loss. So thankful you allowed God to turn the loss of your child into something good by warning others about this misguided game.
God Bless You and your Family.
posted about this on Facebook 2016-10-03 11:53:06 -0700
commented 2016-08-20 06:56:14 -0700 · Flag
My friend, Tommy, just lost his 11 year old who tried the choking game. So tragic! His only son, for no reason. I have an 11 year old. More people need to be aware and we need to try to get the websites and videos taken down.
commented 2016-04-25 12:54:24 -0700 · Flag
My best friend just lost her son on April 12th from the choking game. An entire town is devistated and most think he just hung himself. How can I help my friend through this tragedy? She is understandably broken. Her son Austin was 15. What can we do?
commented 2016-01-14 21:09:49 -0800 · Flag
I am so very sorry for your loss, but maybe God made him an angel so through him you could save other kids. There is a reason for everything, Erik’s story is tragic, no doubt but there are so many children that die everyday from cancer, car accidents and accidental shootings and yes suicide it’s truly mind-boggling. As a single Mom of two sons (11 and 15) that have thought of suicide (both are in counseling, and I participate also) This story hit me hard. I read the entire page with youngest (I will with my oldest as well) and we watched the video and it made him really sad and me also. All of these beautiful kids , over/done. We talked about all the things they will never do and I think it sunk in. Life is precious and it can be gone in the blink of an eye, for whatever reason. This a strong message for parents too. Love each other everyday and night and it may still not be enough, but at least we know we loved them well.

Thank you for creating Erik’s Cause and making people aware,
Blessings to you and yours Judy.
followed this page 2015-07-10 05:20:08 -0700
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Erik's Cause
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