Boy’s death a wakeup call for parents
As the family of a former Carson City fourth-grader who accidentally hanged himself while playing Feb. 18 buried their son Monday, 9-year-old Brett Michael Walch’s older brother hoped there is a lesson for other families.
“Maybe this will stop anyone else. People just watch movies and they get crazy ideas from them,” Jameson Walch, 33, said.
Walch and his family believe Michael, the youngest son, got the idea to hang himself from a scene in his favorite movie, “Almost Heroes” starring Chris Farley and Matthew Perry — a movie the family never considered deadly.
In the opening scene, Farley’s character is standing in the gallows of a Western town, sentenced to hang. Just as the noose is lowered over his neck and the box kicked from underneath his feet, Perry’s character rides into town on a stagecoach with a pardon in hand.
For about two minutes, Farley hangs by his neck, comically gasping and kicking his feet, as Perry stands beside him showing the townspeople the pardon.
“Michael’s favorite movie was ‘Almost Heroes,’ and in the movie (Farley) hangs himself, then after a while he gets up,” Walch said.
There was evidence Michael and an 11-year-old playmate had assisted one another in hanging each other, perhaps reenacting the scene from the movie, said Assistant Chief Jim Weston of the Reno Police Department.
“It’s my understanding that (Michael’s death) wasn’t the first time the children had (hanged themselves). The two watched the movie a week before,” Weston said.
Walch said when he went to the home of the playmate, the boy’s mother told him her husband had caught the boys doing something similar.
“I guess they have a tree house and were wrapping the rope around their necks,” he said. “They would do things like that and then cut each other down or put the stool back. They were playing that kind of game.”
Walch said the scene in the movie made it look like a person wouldn’t really die from hanging.
For a 9-year-old boy, believing you’ll survive a hanging isn’t an unlikely scenario, said Dr. Kathryn Oden, a clinical psychologist from Carson-Tahoe Hospital’s Behavioral Health Services.
“Permanence is a really tough thing for a kid to grasp,” Oden said. “Death is just not a real concept. Irreversible change is not a real concept to a child until he is 10 at the earliest, more likely until he is 12 or 14 years old.”
Oden suggests parents watch everything their children watch.
“Just because something is on Nickelodeon or the Disney Channel doesn’t necessarily mean everything is innocuous,” she said.
“The difficulty is that children are presented constantly with pretend things and real things from the TV set and it’s difficult to know which is which,” she said.
Oden said watching television or movies with your children enables you to address issues as they arise.
If something questionable comes up, “the first thing you should do is decide whether to continue watching this film or video. If its a videotape, stop it right then and there and talk to him about it while it’s fresh in his memory,” she said.
“The concept of death is something you have to start talking to kids about when they are 4 or 5 years old. You should talk about death in very concrete terms to your children. We say someone passed away, but for children you have to say ‘This person is dead, that means they aren’t going to breathe anymore, they’re not going to walk around anymore, they can’t hear us and they can’t talk to us and they can’t ever come back.'”
She said parents also shouldn’t subject children to the nightly news, which can be even scarier than a movie because it’s real.
“It’s bad for adults to watch the 6 o’clock news. I would avoid it (for your children) if you could,” she said. “It’s certainly bad to allow children to watch scenes of blood and gore, especially if they may begin to grasp that this is real.”
Oden said if children have an open relationship with their family or with some other adult, they will likely let someone know what is on their minds, even if its a question about whether a person can die from hanging.
Oden believes video games can also cause confusion in children — from the most violent of games to the seemingly harmless cartoon-character driven adventures.
“Video games are rated for a reason, follow those ratings. Think about some of the things Crash Bandicoot does. There are lots of things you wouldn’t want your kid to do. Even when you’re laughing and having fun, say, ‘Boy, I’m glad he’s not a real person. What would happen to a real person if he did that?’ Just keep enforcing to your kid that the stuff that they see is not real and the things those people do are not necessarily safe.”
“I think my brother didn’t realize he would die,” Walch said. “I guess he thought you really couldn’t die from hanging.”