Jason Rooker, who accidentally hanged himself, dies at age 11

The Roanoke Times September 5, 1997, Page A1-2
The Virginian Pilot, September 6, 1997 - Associated Press


RADFORD, Va. - The 16-month journey of a boy who accidentally hanged himself while playing in his Claytor Lake front yard ended where it began Thursday when 11-year-old Jason Rooker died at home.

Jason's parents, Greg and Fran Rooker, said they do not know how their son died. They found his body Thursday morning [September 4, 1997]. There are no plans to perform an autopsy, Greg Rooker said.

The June 1996 accident might have cut off oxygen to Jason's brain for as much as 10 minutes. In the months since, he had been in a slow, steady struggle to recover use of his arms and legs.

Jason's journey has been one for his father as well. Greg Rooker, a man who used to pride himself on his self-sufficiency, learned to rely on the kindness of a small New River Valley army of more than 70 volunteers who helped with Jason's rehabilitation and offered support.

"I always felt I could make my way, and as a newspaperman, and as an entrepreneur, I've done that," said Rooker, who runs the Southwest Virginia Enterprise in Wytheville and two other newspapers.

"But this experience has showed me I haven't got anything in my hands but just right now. And it's showed me how desperately important other people are and can be and have been to us."

The outpouring began shortly after Jason accidentally hanged himself with a toy lasso while playing in his parents' yard. And it intensified in April, when the former Bethel Elementary School fifth-grader came home from the Kluge Children's Rehabilitation Center in Charlottesville.

To prepare for their son's return, Greg and Fran Rooker traveled to Philadelphia to learn a technique called patterning, which attempts to retrain injured parts of the brain.

The patterning technique required five people - one on each of Jason's arms and legs and one at his head - to move his body in a simulation of crawling. The exercise was repeated three times each day. Lasting an hour and a half per session.

Charlie and Laraine Simpson were among the volunteers. They were taught by the Rookers and read a book on the technique. Laraine helped out Wednesday afternoons. Charlie worked with Jason Wednesday nights.

The Simpsons learned of Jason through their church, St. Jude's in Radford. Others learned from library bulletin boards, some from fliers posted in fitness centers.

Jason Rooker is shown with his mother,
Fran Rooker, in a photo taken in November 1996 at
Kluge Children's Rehabilitation Center
in Charlottesville.

"It was all about everyone really having the same goal, I guess wanting to help," Laraine Simpson said. "And Fran and Greg, it's their child. And they did everything, everything possible to improve the situation. And it was coming, it really was; very slowly, but it was coming."

"It's very sad," she said. "I'm not sure how sad it is for Jason; I think God has his own way of taking care of things. But for us, it's hard."

Donna Buchanan had been Jason's occupational therapist since he came home. She learned of his death Thursday morning and had been thinking about him ever since, she said.

"He had a wonderful sense of humor and smile even after all this tragedy that happened to him," she said. "And he was fortunate enough to have the most wonderful parents. Some parents are good with this and some parents aren't. Jason's were willing to be up 24 hours if that's what he needed."

Greg Rooker said he plans to form The Jason Foundation to act as a clearinghouse for information on brain injuries. He and his wife had a tough time finding information on new techniques and research. He wants the next person to have an easier one.

"The lessons Jason taught me I hope will be life lessons," Greg Rooker said. "I'm a very cynical person. But I think my cynicism's been knocked out of me."

"I've become a real believer in people," he said. "People have really helped us in so many ways and I'll just never forget that. And now I need to be one of those people."


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