Jason Rooker, who accidentally hanged
himself, dies at age 11
BOY'S 16-MONTH ORDEAL COMES TO AN END, BUT LESSONS
HE TAUGHT WILL LIKELY ENDURE
The Roanoke Times September 5, 1997,
The Virginian Pilot, September 6, 1997 - Associated Press
By MARK CLOTHIER - THE ROANOKE TIMES
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
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
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
"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
"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
"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."