Archive for March 14th, 2012

This is a great — but sad, horribly tragic — article about some dear friends of ours who live in this community.  We attend church with them in Plymouth and have grown to know them and their children very well.  I love them very much but, regrettably, I’ve not had done as much as I would like to support them following this loss.  Still, I can let them know that their pain is never completely out of my mind and that I hope others can learn and grow from this horrific incident.

We’ve watched Abby grow from a little kid to a young woman.  She’s spent time at our home, hanging out with our daughter.  She’s been with us, and an extended group of friends.  We miss her and can’t imagine what our friends are going through with her loss.

Check out this article.  Share this information with your teens and pre-teens.  These tragedies do happen in our community.


When Kassi Gilbert found the strange markings on her daughter’s face — splotches that appeared with no apparent explanation — she did what any parent might do and got her to the emergency room.

Doctors at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ypsilanti conducted a battery of tests and couldn’t find a reason for the markings, either, although they ruled out anything blood-borne. They sent Kassi and her daughter home, with a recommendation to follow up with their pediatrician. That was Sept. 23, 2011.

Six days later, 14-year-old Abigaille Giamporcaro of Canton was dead.

Abigaille’s young, promising life — the Discovery Middle School student was a poet and a songwriter, a creative soul with an eye on a career as an interior designer — was snuffed out the way an increasing number of lives are being ended recently. Abigaille died, alone in the closet of her own Canton bedroom, playing what is euphemistically called the “choking game,” a relatively new way young people have begun using while chasing a “high” for which they don’t need drugs.

Nearly six months later, her family is still reeling.

Thrill seeking?

“It’s awful,” Kassi Gilbert said of the pain inflicted by the loss. “It’s every day. It just doesn’t go away.”

The game is played by fashioning a noose around the neck, pulling on it and releasing just before loss of consciousness. Doctors say the idea is to get the same sort of “high” they might get, but without the danger of being caught with illegal drugs or alcohol.

“Thrill seeking is the major reason for participating in this game,” said Dr. Michael Butkus, Assistant Professor/Psychologist, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences at the Wayne State University School of Medicine.

“This game is played by all kinds of adolescents, some high-achieving, some not. It would be attractive to some adolescents who are bored, maybe even a little depressed because their lives may be empty of other sources of pleasure,” he said.

It is frequently done in crowds, but is often also done alone, which is how Abigaille played it, at least the last time.

Trying to help

Her parents aren’t really sure how long Abigaille had been playing the game, although since her death they’ve discovered her best friend had known, and had done his best to get her to stop. Kassi and her husband, Caleb, also don’t know where she learned it, although there are YouTube videos and websites dedicated to the practice.

Here’s what they do know: On the day she died, Abigaille had been planning to go to a friend’s house, but had been asked by her working parents to help get preparations started for dinner. When Abby’s 9-year-old sister, Kimberly, got home and couldn’t find Abby, she called her mother.

Gilbert told Kimberly to go through the house, while staying on the phone. Minutes later, the awful discovery had been made.

“She said, ‘Mom, I found her in her closet, and she’s freaking

me out!’” Kassi recalled. “She went outside and started screaming for help.”

Caleb Gilbert won’t ever forget those moments, either. Hurrying home from the east side and stuck in rush-hour expressway traffic, Caleb dialed his home phone and found a neighbor answering. The neighbor said, “You need to get home now.” When he called back, a police officer answered. Caleb will never forget that conversation.

Chilling call

“He said, ‘Sir, there’s been an incident at your house … They’re working on your daughter,’” Caleb recalled.

Kassi got home first, followed by Caleb. By the time he got there, EMTs had already taken Abby to Annapolis Hospital in Wayne. Doctors at the hospital spoke the words no parent ever wants to hear.

“They told us there was nothing they could do,” Caleb said. “Your life changes in an instant.”

In the days following Abby’s death, her best friend told police he’d learned Abby was taking part in the game — “If we hadn’t found out what she’d been doing, we’d have thought she committed suicide,” Kassi said — and tried to talk her out of it.

To this day, the family doesn’t know how long she’d been doing it. She’d spent the summer in West Virginia with her father, and the month following her return was busy getting ready for school. Her mother didn’t notice anything wrong. Sure, Abby was tired a lot, and there were those mysterious splotches, but any parent might mistake those. Even the doctors at St. Joe’s had no idea.

It wasn’t until after Abby’s death, when Kassi was searching — begging, really — for answers, did she find out those things are symptoms of kids playing the game. In fact, this year had been smoother than the year before, when peer pressure and anger issues were raised with Abby, who at one point even told her mother she wanted to move to West Virginia with her dad.

But those attitudes were gone when Abby got back last summer. She was hanging out with friends, getting ready for school, thinking about getting a work permit.

Vague symptoms

“It wasn’t until she passed I found out she’d skipped a few days of school,” Kassi said. “She’d been tired, and she wasn’t feeling well. There wasn’t anything that flagged me.”

Not realizing the symptoms is the frustrating thing about what happened to Abby, according to Kassi. There are so many warning signs parents learn to look for in terms of drug use or more extreme behavior such as cutting themselves.

“But with this, the symptoms are so vague,” she said. “The one chance we had, the doctors didn’t even know. How are we, as parents, supposed to know.”

Now that she’s done some research, Kassi does know more about symptoms.

According to Dr. Butkus, the Wayne State University psychologist, “any significant change in behavior is generally a red flag.” A happy child who turns irritable, headaches, unexplained behavior, etc. are all symptoms. And parents shouldn’t just look at their own children.

“Since the choking game can be played in groups, youth’s friends may have signs, too,” Butkus said. “As a good rule of thumb, parents should always know what their children are doing and don’t hesitate to ask questions and probe in spite of the youth’s protestations.”

Experts say the numbers are so fuzzy when trying to determine not only how many kids are participating, but how many are dying from it. According to the Dangerous Behaviors Foundation, it’s estimated that between 250 and 1,000 children die each year from the practice; however, hard statistics are difficult to come by, they said, since many coroners record such deaths as suicide.

Different intent

Kassi hates the idea of Abby’s death being thought of as a suicide, because “it denotes a whole different angle, an intent to it.”

“It makes it look like her whole reason (for playing the game) was she wanted to die,” Kassi said. “I don’t think that’s true.”

Abby, whom Caleb called “very artistic, very right-brained … fun and spunky and very cool,” left behind three siblings — 18-year-old, Zachary Giamporcaro; 9-year-old Kimberly Gilbert and 2-year-old Henry Gilbert. They’re left to sift through the pain.

“There is often trauma among the loved ones that in itself requires treatment,” Butkus said. “Many never get over it and are bothered by the loss for years, and many blame themselves for not being able to prevent the death.”

Preventing deaths is what Kassi and Caleb are now focused on accomplishing. Kassi has poured herself into research and now knows more about what she could have been looking for.

She hopes to help other parents avoid the same pain she feels six months after her daughter’s death.

“I want parents to know it’s a possibility their kids are doing this … I want them to talk to their kids about the way they do about safe sex or drugs.

“I think (the pain) gets harder after the initial shock,” she added. “For me, the shock wore off about a month ago. (Now) there’s no emotional buffer. It’s awful.”

She’s trying to recover, though. The family recently made a memorial gift donation to the Canton Public Library, where Kassi and her daughter often wiled away the hours. The donation is being used to buy four books that would have interested Abby. Kassi still has, and plans to keep, Abby’s library card.

“It means a lot to me,” said Kassi, who is working toward a master’s in library information science at Wayne State. “It makes me very happy to have her name memorialized in a place where we spent time together.”


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