Dubai: On a Thursday night in March, rock music blared by the pool where a mixed group of about 15 teenagers frolicked in a posh Al Barsha villa.
The weekend party was in full swing with some girls already stripping topless in the pool - then something went dreadfully wrong. At about 10.30pm Ahmad, a 16-year-old boy, son of a rich Jordanian businessman, collapsed and began to swim in his own vomit.
The horrified parents of Emma, the 14-year-old girl who hosted the party, later found out the boy blacked out due to a deadly cocktail of butane inhalation and vodka.
"I was checking on them every now and then and was concerned when I saw some of the girls stripping. They seemed to be high on something. The others were not mindful about what was going on with this boy," said Emma's mother. Ambulance and police had to be called in.
The incident went unreported as Ahmad's parents withdrew their complaint against Emma's parents for negligence.
The next day, Emma's parents, who spoke to XPRESS on condition of anonymity, said they found four used butane canisters by the pool.
The March incident took place more than two months before the sensational death of 16-year-old American Anton Tahmasian two weeks back, who, witnesses and police said, died on Thursday night (June 17) after inhaling a lethal dose of butane at a graduation party in Sidra Village in Umm Suqeim.
Emma's parents feel butane use, mixed with alcohol and coupled with teenage sex during such parties is much more widespread than imagined.
"I strongly believe that butane is the common thread that sews together the death of Anton, the four Mirdif teenage girls (whose faces were disfigured in a mysterious gas explosion inside a villa basement) and the poolside party gone wrong at our villa," said the parent, who called on authorities "to do something before it's too late".
A police source added weight to the parent's statement stating there were indications that butane may have been one of the reasons behind the Mirdif blast.
However, Major Ali Al Mutawa, Director of the Operations Room at Dubai Civil Defence, said investigations in the Mirdif fire are yet to be completed and the results will made public when the cause is determined.
Lieutenant Colonel Ahmad Humaid Al Merri, Director of the Criminal Investigations Division of Dubai Police, said they received no prior reports of butane abuse among Dubai's expatriate teens until the Tahmasian case hogged the headlines.
First such case
"This is the first-ever incident [of butane abuse] we have come across. Substances like butane cannot be banned as they are used in different household items such as deodorants or paints and thinners," he said.
"In this case, it's up to the parents to keep track of their children," added Al Merri.
Until the March poolside party horror, Emma's parents said they didn't have any inkling about what their teenage daughter was up to. However, the Indian houseboy of the rich business family said he had noticed the youngsters inhaling butane.
While the March incident may have been swept under the rug, the murky goings-on at Dubai's so-called "Facebook parties" is just starting to reveal the underbelly of substance abuse and easy sexual relationships among teenagers.
The March incident prompted Emma's parents to impose a "double grounding" on their 14-year-old girl. However, just one month later, two more used butane canisters were found inside her room during a sweep. "I feel that it's better for these kids to get a taste of jail time to scare them off than to fall into this substance abuse trap," said the desperate parent.
"Authorities should ban these butane canisters or make them a controlled substance, like in the West. These kids want to seek higher highs. They brag on Facebook of the parties they've been to and how they got away with these dangerous thrills."
The parents suspect older teens have turned such parties into a money-making industry. "It's their way of killing boredom -- to find trouble and see who gets away," said the parents.
The concerned parent added: "The March party was a revelation for us. We can't allow our children to spiral downwards into a world of self-destruction."
Fuelled by peer pressure and a sense of wanting to ‘belong', thousands of teenagers in expatriate schools across Dubai have turned to dangerous concoctions to get a thrill. "It's scary … what these kids are up to. It's very, very scary. The government has to do something about it," said the parent. She warned that more teen deaths - or widespread addiction to butane - could occur if authorities do not control access to the deadly gas.
"Authorities should do something to limit youngster's easy access to it.".
Psychologist Dr Alia Ebrahim said she had encountered "numerous" cases of substance abuse among under-age boys and girls brought to her by parents. "Both genders resort to different types of substances to get high," she revealed. "Traditional activities (like malling, sports, etc) no longer excite them, that's why many turn to harmful substances," she said.
Parents who turn a blind eye to the problem are also partly to blame according to her. "Some parents are in a state of denial," said Dr Ebrahim, "refusing to believe their children can do something wrong".
"And since a smaller mischief goes unpunished, teenagers move to bigger ones."
A forensics report on the cause of death of Anton Tahmasian is expected in the coming days, according to a senior police official.
Anton's father had been cooperating with prosecution but refused to allow an autopsy to be performed on his 16-year-old son's body.
"When we started our investigations, we thought there was a link between the fight that happened between Anton and one of his schoolmates who was at the party," said Al Merri.
According to investigations, during the party, Anton was carrying his backpack, which contained two cans of butane. He engaged in a fight with a schoolmate with whom he had some problems. "He threw a punch at the boy's right eye before friends intervened and resolved the problem," he said.
After the fight, Anton picked up one of the cans, which contained a nozzle attached to the tip, put it between his front teeth and took one long shot. He fell to the ground unconscious, witnesses said.
A rescue team came seven minutes later and found him dead. "No more butane cans were found at the party," said Al Merri.
Rumours of alcohol bottles being freely available at the party for the underage students could not be confirmed as no alcohol was found in the villa.
Butane addict speaks to XPRESS
Emma, at whose villa the March party was held, has all the luxuries of life. She gets a Macbook Pro for her birthday. But she has a problem - she's a butane addict. Speaking to XPRESS she showed us the extent of such abuse among Dubai's well-off teens. "These Facebook parties are common here. Every Thursday there are two or three such parties. Organisers charge entrants between Dh40 and Dh90. It's more expensive during the early part of the month, when teens get their monthly allowance.
"I've tried butane and I don't even like it, but I had to in order to be ‘in'," she said.
One shot of butane lasts for 10 minutes. "Punch me and I won't even feel a thing. I could fall from a building without feeling anything. No fear. After 10 minutes, you get another shot. In between, it's alcohol - vodka, gin, anything. The effect actually lasts for two days," she said.
Carmen, another girl who lives in a posh Palm Jumeirah villa is also a butane addict. Not a single day goes by without her sniffing the brain-wasting gas. Her mother has caught her sniffing butane several times and is concerned it could take a turn for the worse.
(Names changed to protect the identities of teenagers)