A cousin of the Eagle Point 14-year-old who died Saturday night after drinking alcohol and inhaling helium said Ashley Long was a good student who hadn't gotten into trouble in the past.
"I don't know why she had to be the one to die," said Chelsea Boeggeman, a 14-year-old cousin of Ashley's.
Ashley was with several teenagers at a house in the 3100 block of Alameda Street in Medford when she inhaled a large amount of helium and collapsed just before 11 p.m., according to police.
Chelsea, an eighth-grader at Hedrick Middle School in Medford, said Ashley was likeable and an innocent person who probably had no idea of the potential dangers of inhaling helium from a tank.
"I didn't know it was that dangerous either," Chelsea said.
Medford police said they responded to a 9-1-1 call Saturday and found that Ashley was unconscious and not breathing, having collapsed seconds after inhaling helium.
Ashley was transported to Rogue Valley Medical Center and pronounced dead shortly after arrival. Her cause of death still is under investigation.
Chelsea said she had many fond memories with Ashley, including sleepovers every Easter, and taking lots of pictures together.
"She was so nice," Chelsea said, adding that Ashley's parents are close with her own.
Katherine McAloon, 27, who was the older sister of one of the teens at the house that night, was arrested on seven counts of furnishing alcohol to a minor, and two counts of delivering marijuana to a minor.
Medford police said the teens at the house ranged from 13 to 16 years old.
A search of court records shows that McAloon was arrested in Jackson County in January on charges of felony identity theft and in February on a charge of driving with a suspended license.
As of Monday, McAloon was being held in Jackson County Jail on $38,000 bail.
Police believe other people may have been at the house and left before officers arrived, and the investigation is ongoing, according to Medford police Lt. Mike Budreau.
Budreau said he doesn't believe parties with helium tanks are a growing trend in the area.
"I've never heard of this before," he said. "I don't think it's a trend, I think this is more of an isolated incident."
Budreau said while he is now aware that a few people have accidently died after inhaling helium in recent years, many people are still unaware of the risks.
"Hopefully a tragic death like this will never happen again," he said. "We need to realize the dangers."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, inhaling helium can cause dizziness and headaches. It also can cause suffocation by lowering the oxygen content in the lungs. Inhaling high concentrations of compressed helium can cut off oxygen to the brain, leading to unconsciousness or death.
Budreau said he doesn't believe the teens at the party were inhaling helium to get high, but were using it just for entertainment value, as breathing out helium changes the pitch of a person's voice.
"This is a tragedy," said Budreau. "I wish it could have been prevented."
Budreau said that sometimes adults believe that by controlling the environment where young people drink or use drugs, bad things won't happen.
"It's a huge liability to take on a gathering where kids are drinking alcohol," Budreau said. "You may think you are keeping them safe in your home, but it can be like herding cats. They don't know when to stop."
Budreau said underage drinking often can end in drunken driving or sexual assault, as teenagers aren't used to how their body reacts to alcohol or how much they can handle.
An autopsy is expected to be performed to determine the cause of Ashley's death, Budreau said.
Ashley was an eighth-grader at Eagle Point Middle School, where Chelsea said she had many friends and played volleyball and softball.
Staff at the school will be briefed today on how to handle Ashley's death and offer support for students, according to Michael Remick, district human resources director.
"We already have a plan in motion for how to best help students," said Remick, who wasn't sure how many years Ashley had attended school in the district.
Reach reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or firstname.lastname@example.org.