EAGLE POINT, Ore. (AP) — Last weekend, 14-year-old Ashley Long told her parents she was going to a slumber party. But instead of spending the night watching videos and eating popcorn two blocks away, she piled into a car with a bunch of her friends and rode to a condo in Medford, Ore., where police say the big sister of one of her friends was throwing a party with booze and marijuana.

After drinking on the drive, and downing more drinks in the condo, it came time for Ashley to take her turn on a tank of helium that everyone else was inhaling to make their voices sound funny.

“That helium tank got going around,” said Ashley’s stepfather, Justin Earp, who learned what happened from talking to Ashley’s friends at the party. “It got to my daughter. My daughter didn’t want to do it. It was peer pressure. They put a mask up to her face. They said it would be OK. ‘It’s not gonna hurt you. It’ll just make you laugh and talk funny.'”

Instead, she passed out and later died at a hospital, the result of an obstruction in a blood vessel caused by inhaling helium from a pressurized tank.

“It blew her lungs out,” Earp said. “It exploded them. It created air pockets in her veins. Then it went up into her brain and blew it up.”

It’s a common party trick — someone sucks in helium to give their voice a cartoon character sound.

But the death exposes the rare but real dangers of inhaling helium, especially from a pressurized tank. The gas is also commonly seen in suicide kits — mail-order hoods sold out of Oregon and elsewhere that can be attached to a helium tank by people who want to kill themselves.

Death from inhaling helium is so rare that the American Association Poison Control Centers lumps it in with other gases, such as methane and propane. Only three deaths from simple asphyxiants were recorded in 2010, said spokeswoman Loreeta Canton.

Dr. Mark Morocco, associate professor of emergency medicine at the Ronald Reagan Medical Center in Los Angeles, said what happens is similar to when a scuba diver surfaces too quickly. A gas bubble gets into the bloodstream, perhaps through some kind of tear in a blood vessel. If it is a vein, the bubble will stay in the lungs. If it is an artery, it can block the flow of oxygen-laden blood to the brain, casing a stroke. If there is a hole in the heart, the bubble can go from a vein to an artery and then to the brain.

“We tell folks every day that the combination of alcohol and anything else in the party world puts you at a much higher risk factor,” Morocco said.

Morocco said the other risk of using helium is apoxia, which can cause wooziness, but it’s not lethal.

It’s important to remind kids that ingesting any substance — for the sake of getting high or just changing their voices — can be dangerous, said Frank Pegueros, executive director of DARE, Drug Abuse Resistance Education.

Pegueros said the first defense is for parents to tell their kids about the dangers of certain substances. He said kids need to also ask themselves whether going along with the crowd at a party is worth it.

“Peer pressure is a very potent force,” he said. “We’ve all gone through it growing up.”

“It’s getting somebody to pause and think and evaluate the situation and determine, is this something that’s going to have a bad consequence,” he said.

Police have arrested 27-year-old Katherine McAloon, who lived in the condo, on charges of providing alcohol and marijuana to minors. Four men who were at the party have been questioned by police, but have not been charged, said Medford Police Lt. Mike Budreau. More charges may be filed after police turn over their evidence to the district attorney.

Ashley was a goofy, nerdy eighth-grader who struggled with her weight, was just starting to notice boys, got top grades in school, had posters of Justin Bieber all over her room and wanted to grow up to be a marine biologist, said her mom, Loriann Earp. The family moved from Grants Pass, Ore., to Eagle Point about a year ago, and Ashley had just gotten over the difficulty of adjusting to eighth grade in a new school.

Justin Earp said the kids had four wine coolers each in the car, and four mixed drinks at the condo, before they started passing around the helium.

Police said it was an 8-gallon canister, the kind you can buy at many stores. The kids were taking hits directly from the tank, not putting the gas into a balloon first.

When Ashley passed out, someone tried CPR. Then they called 911. Paramedics tried to revive her and took her to the hospital.

“About 11:30 we got a phone call from police saying they were doing CPR on our daughter,” said Justin Earp.

At the hospital, they were told that Ashley had died.

Her family has set up a foundation, Ashley’s Hope, to spread the word about the dangers of inhaling helium.

Loriann Earp feels like her daughter was stolen from her.

“My whole chest is collapsed and my heart is broken,” she said through sobs. “I don’t understand.”

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Comments (55)
  1. TitanKitty says:

    If you want to inhale helium, do it from a toy balloon. Never from a tank.

    1. Gangsta_Stylo says:

      That’s like saying, don’t inhale Nitrous Oxide from a tank, do it from a can of whip cream. They were trying to get high not talk funny.

      1. this guy above me is lacking mental abilities says:

        you don’t get high from helium toolbox

      2. The guy below lacks comprehension skills says:

        “They put a mask up to her face. They said it would be OK. ‘It’s not gonna hurt you. It’ll just make you laugh and talk funny.’ – Why do you think they would be laughing? Maybe because they’re HIGH.

      3. look who's talking says:

        Not high but die.

      4. Gangsta_Stylo is an idiot says:

        They would laugh because they were already drunk on alcohol and marijuana, dummy.

      5. LikeTheBalloonBoy says:

        Unelected officials took over Washington and the media following a coup. They will give anything national attention even if they have to make it up to take attention away from the truth leaking out. We have no president, no democracy, and freedom of press is an illusion.

        The next election is shaping up to be as big of a sham as the last. Do you know why Sarah Palin’s bus tour was really canceled? Do you know why she stayed 30 miles away from the second debate and chose the death of Steve Jobs to announce that she’s not running? Know what leaked out? Sarah Palin and Cain aren’t in the race for the same reason, the truth leaked out.

        The biggest cover up in history starts here

      6. caligula says:

        from the article knuckleheads: “…other risk of using helium is apoxia, which can cause wooziness, but it’s not lethal.”

        wooziness = high

        use your brains idiots.

    2. ken says:

      get a tank of nitrogen gas. It’s cheaper.

  2. Jason says:

    “It’s a common party trick”. Anyone prosecuting these “tricksters” for manslaughter?

  3. Common Sense says:

    What sane adult holds a party and supplies booze and marijuana to 14 year olds??? This was just an accident waiting to happen and this so called adult is directly responsible for what happened. She can never do enough time in jail for such a death.

    1. Edward says:

      She should go to jail for the helium and alcohol.

      Marijuana? Not so much. There’s a reason the civilized (ie: not trying to make laws from fundamentalist interpretations of religious books) world is legalizing it.

      You won’t find a single person in the history of the world who has died from marijuana, and I oppose sending anyone to jail for using or distributing it.

      1. Mikey says:

        So you are saying with 100% certainty that the marijuana did not affect her judgement when it came time to inhail the Helium? Or that the smoke may have weakened her lungs (like any kind of smoke can) thus making her more likely to suffer harm from inhailing the helium?

        Also nice try injecting religion in a story that makes ZERO mention of it. Typical pot head. Just go back to your bong and leave the discussion to the adults.

      2. kauboy says:

        You folks really are getting on my nerves.
        I DON’T give a damn if nobody has died from it.
        If the law says it’s illegal, then it’s friggin ILLEGAL!!!!
        Until the law changes, they *should* be punished for breaking it.

        If punishment were dealt out by the risk of death involved, we should punish anyone who drives a car, operates a public pool, or sells alcohol.

        The law is the law.
        Follow it, change it, or suffer the consequences of breaking it.

      3. dan says:

        so its ok to give / sell it to kids………….jr high, erarlier……………..14 15 16 anyone ? huh Edward you putz

  4. FrankD says:

    Sad story. RIP Ashley

  5. JAQUEBAUER says:

    For the layperson, inhaling anything than air at atmoshperic pressure or medically administrated oxygen can be deadly. Even breathing helium from a balloon can be harmful or fatal. I have observed persons to pass out from lack of oxygen after inhaling helium from a balloon, fall (they drop like a ton of bricks) and sustain a severe head injury and brain swelling. Unattended to, this person might have died.

    1. Alex says:

      Good point – passing out might be “funny” but hitting your head won’t be!

  6. Jasonn says:

    If you can’t be a good example then you’ll just have to be a horrible warning.

    1. Texas Freedom says:

      Well said.

  7. Matt BRown says:

    I have been to a lot of parties, i have never been to one where we all inhaled helium… EVER.

    1. Larz Blackman says:

      Then you’ve been going to the wrong parties.

      1. Alexis says:

        No, YOU’VE been going to the wrong parties.

  8. Some Dudester says:

    HAng the adult, that would send the correct message.

  9. Larry says:

    Whenever my daughter went to a party, I drove her there, met the parents and made sure I had contact numbers. Seemed to me to be the reasonable thing to do.

    I wouldn’t have let her jump in a car with some other teenager

    But everyone does things differently and I have to admit I had done dumber things when I was a teen.

  10. JRS says:

    That it was helium had nothing to do with the injury.

    If you inhale directly from the pressurized tank, it’s very easy to overdo the gas pressure and rupture the lungs. This is exactly what happened. And it would have happened no matter what gas they were inhaling – it could have just as easily been compressed air. It also had little to do with whether there was booze and pot at the party. This kind of accident could have happened at a 5-year-old’s birthday party.

    Use a balloon.

  11. AlexMA says:

    Wow…embarassing way to go. Especially when considering the only effect you can get from inhaling helium is a high voice. Did someone get helium mixed up with Nitrous and bring the wrong thing? Also, I have never heard of taking a mask directly to the tank….always saw people using brass “crackers” to dump the gas into balloons. Unfortunately these brass devices are illegal in some states so they may have not had one available…

  12. Edward says:

    The Marijuana was fine. No one in the world has ever died from marijuana smoke and it causes no long term mental/physical health problems (unless laced, but that problem is the fault of the prohibitionists).

    Someone needs to go to jail for providing alcohol and a f’ing helium tank to minors, though. That’s disgusting.

    1. Some Dudester says:

      Only pot smokers belive it causes no health problems. You need to look a bit more into the real effects of long term or chronic or even weekly use. Lung, mental, emotional, lifestyle, and support of narco terrorism are among the problems.

      Stop dreaming

      1. Intelligent Person unlike the guy I'm replying to says:

        Exactly, because pot smokers do the research, experience the effect and deal with a healthy livelihood from smoking. you ignorant anti-marijuana people do not 🙂 You are very good at talking about something you know nothing about though, I’ll give you that.

      2. Some Dudester says:

        To the commenter below. Pot smokers don;t do the research, the only read what they want.

        Marijuana ought to be called ingnoramus-juana. It causes short term memory loss too.

        You post looks like it was written by a teenager. Of course, MJ turns most users into teenage level thinkers.

        Bye Bye , so sad

  13. SGT Ted says:

    Stupid people kill one of themselves, ignoring advise easily gotten on google. Film at eleven.

    That’s why parents need to talk to other parents when slumber parties are discussed. 14 year olds routinely pull this kind of stuff, where they lie about slumber parties to go attend other things.

  14. Joseph says:

    we need a war on helium now.

  15. Walter Mitty says:

    Let’s see, drinking, smoking pot, what a little angel.

    1. Alex says:

      Sounds like someone trying to fit it – happens all throughout life.

      1. Alex says:

        “fit in”

    2. Jon says:

      What an incredibly insensitive thing to say. Trying alcohol and marijuana does not in any way make that girl a bad person. People like you make me absolutely sick to my stomach.

  16. gov't mule says:

    “had posters of Justin Bieber all over her room and ….”

    that’s the problem – obviously an idiot

  17. littleleers says:

    I am more shocked by the amount of alcohol these kids consumed. Wow, just wow. I would have thought the death would have been from alcohol poisoning.

    Sympathy to the girl’s parents and friends. Unfortunately, at that age, kids tend to make bad decisions and fall under peer pressure.

  18. platypus says:

    I am six foot tall and I used to be an alcoholic. At that time I weigherd about 190.

    The amount of alcohol this girl drank in the car would have made me pretty drunk, back in the day. I cannot imagine a girl that age drinking that much and still being able to walk UNLESS she had quite a tolerance to booze.

    I think she has been a drinker for quite awhile. I also think that the mask would have blown off her face unless it had straps so we have to wonder why no one else at the party suffered the same fate.

    Manslaughter charges are the least each one of them should face.

    1. The Wu says:

      You make a good point, Platypus. I don’t think the helium, by itself, killed her. I do believe the alcohol & pot may have been a contributing factor in that her body’s ability to resist the effects caused by the pressure of & the helium itself, may have been impaired. Also, the story points out that she didn’t want to do it, but some1 placed the mask on her face. So because every1 was drunk & high, I would suppose that their judgement was impaired which may have contributed to some1’s decision to force the mask on her, & every1 else’s complacency to allow it. Then, when the worst happened, every1 present is naturally going to downplay it to avoid liability.
      That being said, I don’t believe that inhaling helium by itself is all that dangerous. It’s been done for as long as I can remember, probably as long as helium tanks have existed, & it is fun. I have done it myself, but always from a balloon. The dangers, if done properly, are extremely minimal.
      The trick to life isn’t to avoid all danger. If that were the case, then we should never leave our homes. the trick is to learn to manage the risks of everyday life by taking reasonable precautions. So what have we learned from this incident? It should never be done in combination with alcohol or drugs of any kind, & never directly from a tank. Always use a balloon. Now most of us probably already knew this, but for those who didn’t, it’s a potent reminder.
      So don’t be afraid to ever let your kids have the fun of inhaling helium @ a party. Kids have been doing that for decades with very rare complications. Only 3 cases of asphyxiation in 2010, & not necessarily from helium, if any. Just make sure they’re using a balloon & not using drugs or alcohol. Follow that guideline, & the chances of something bad happening are very low.

      1. The Wu says:

        Oh, & btw, my heart goes out to Ashley’s family & friends. I can only imagine the pain you must feel. May her soul rest in peace, in God’s Arms.

  19. ronnnnn says:

    who thinks a slumber party today is eating popcorn and watching a movie ??? ohh and maybe a pillow fight ….

    1. The Wu says:

      That depends on whether or not the party is PROPERLY supervised by RESPONSIBLE adults.

  20. bob says:

    the article even said she got the “bends”, normally a pneumothorax won’t kill you if you get to a hospital, it was the helium in her blood that did it. She essentially “vapor locked” in her brain.

  21. Doug Glass says:

    I’m guessing the parents are now blaming somebody else, feeling no guilt and not planning to change a thing about their pathetic lives and decisions.

  22. Turban says:

    “Police have arrested 27-year-old Katherine McAloon, who lived in the condo, on charges of providing alcohol and marijuana to minors”

    Convictions on one count of manslaughter and multiple counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor would be in order here. After she gets out of jail, the parents ought to be allowed to beat her to death.

  23. 7th Grade Science Education says:

    I don’t know about the parents, but the “author” of this article should be drawn and quartered. Before you write an article, you should do some research. Or, if you talk to an educated physician and you don’t understand what he said, don’t just make stuff up.

    “A gas bubble gets into the bloodstream, perhaps through some kind of tear in a blood vessel. If it is a vein, the bubble will stay in the lungs. If it is an artery, it can block the flow of oxygen-laden blood to the brain, casing a stroke. If there is a hole in the heart, the bubble can go from a vein to an artery and then to the brain.”

    Not only is this paragraph factually inaccurate in every sense, it is poorly written to boot.

    “A gas bubble gets into the bloodstream, perhaps through some kind of tear in a blood vessel.”
    A gas bubble gets into the blood stream the same way oxygen gets into the bloodstream – through the lungs. It turns into a bubble because it was under pressure, but once in the body, the pressure is reduced, and it bubbles out.

    I don’t even know where to begin educating you on the circulatory system. I suggest a 5 minute conversation with any 7th grader who has sat through a life science class. About the only part that may be remotely correct is that a bubble in your bloodstream, if it ends up in the brain and blocks the blood flow, it may CAUSE a stroke. If the bubble ends up blocking the blood flow to the heart, it may result in a heart attack.

    I am not upset at the grieving father for saying ‘it went into her brain and blew it up’ as he is doing better than I. If I were in his shoes, I doubt any intelligible speech would come from me. My heart goes out to his family.

    The ‘journalist’ however, is a grossly different story.

  24. 7th Grade Science Education says:

    Also, after reading that article, I have no idea how the helium killed the poor girl.

    It could have:

    a) caused a blockage/embolism, resulting in a fatal heart attack or stroke (paragraph 4).
    b) blown out her lungs (paragraph 5) resulting in massive internal bleeding and asphyxiation.
    c) caused asphyxiation (paragraphs 7 & 8).

    No wonder credit is given to AP instead of an author. I wouldn’t want my name anywhere on this article.

  25. dydx says:

    Love how the article paints the teenager as a victim…assigned her NO responsibility for her actions. Bottom line, it was her fault for going to the party, and her fault for doing the helium. Period.

    It’s a tragedy, but it is ALL her fault.

  26. M47145 says:

    “Morocco said the other risk of using helium is apoxia, which can cause wooziness, but it’s not lethal.”

    Never heard of apoxia. I guess it was a typo or a hybrid between anoxia and hypoxia?

    Her family has set up a foundation, Ashley’s Hope, to spread the word about the dangers of inhaling helium.

    This should be changed into “the dangers of inhaling pressurized gases”.

    Helium is just an asphyxiant, it displaces oxygen but there’s nothing toxic with it.

    Sad outcome…

  27. chris says:

    So sad but she didn’t want to do it but did it anyway

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