The “Blackout Challenge” claimed the life of another young boy this week. Police found the 12-year-old boy unresponsive after he participated in the dangerous social media trend, according to authorities.
The boy participated in a viral Internet trend called the Blackout Challenge, which involves people recording themselves while attempting to lose consciousness, usually through choking. Police found the boy late Monday in an apartment in Bethany, Oklahoma with marks around his neck. He was taken to the University of Oklahoma Children’s Hospital but died Tuesday, authorities confirmed. The incident is bringing back memories of another 12-year-old boy who died from the same viral challenge a few months ago.
Joshua Haileyesus died in April after participating in the same Blackout Challenge. On March 22, Joshua’s twin brother walked into their bathroom to find the young boy passed out on the floor. The Colorado tween had tied a shoelace around his neck in an attempt to lose consciousness as part of the “Blackout Challenge.” Joshua Haileyesus was rushed to the hospital where he was pronounced brain dead before being placed on life support.
“We would like to update everyone that this evening, after fighting the good fight on life support for 19 days, Joshua has gone off to be with the Lord,” the family wrote in a GoFundMe post. “To everyone who has prayed relentlessly and shared our burden during this trying time, we thank you. Your prayers and your love have comforted us and we are grateful for your support.”
The “Blackout Challenge” has been around for years but has recently resurfaced on the social media platform, TikTok. While existing under pseudonyms like “Passout Challenge,” and “speed dreaming,” the “Blackout Challenge” has users record themselves performing forced self-asphyxiation. Those users would then post the results on TikTok or YouTube, though many attempts have been fatal.
Since the challenge’s resurgence on the platform, TikTok has banned any mention of the trend. Searching for content related to the “Blackout Challenge” results in a warning message which tells users that the “phrase may be associated with behavior or content that violates our guidelines.” It claims, “promoting a safe and positive experience is TikTok’s top priority.”
Joshua Haileyesus died in April while in a coma. He had been placed on life support. Tying a shoelace around his neck, the 12-year-old boy tried to bring himself to the point of passing out. While unconscious, the make-shift noose continued to prevent airflow to his brain until his family found him on the bathroom floor.
While fighting for his life, Joshua’s father, Haileyesus Zeryihun, explained that “I would never imagine my son would do such a thing. I’m paying the price right now, I’m living the life, and I hate for other parents to go through this.”
Joshua Haileyesus was described as an “incredibly intelligent, funny, caring, and gifted” boy who “would learn and master new hobbies out of pure curiosity and drive.” His family wrote on the GoFundMe page – which has garnered over $180,000 – that he played soccer, cook exquisite meals, practiced professional photography, and experimented with 3D modeling software. He was planning to join the Army and had a passion for service. Haileyesus Zeryihun claimed his son had an excellent speaking voice and thought he could become a pastor.
“Beyond his tenacity for knowledge, Joshua has a love for people that you wouldn’t expect in a child,” the GoFundMe post read. “Since he was very young, he always expressed compassion for others. He would pray for people who were sick, stand up for others who were bullied at school, and practice CPR in case he ever needed to save someone else’s life.”
Joshua Haileyesus’ family is devastated by their loss and saddened “that someone who has a future as promising as Joshua” could succumb to the dangers of the internet in such a tragic way. While mourning their own loss, the boy’s family is also concerned for others who may go through similar situations.
Haileyesus Zeryihun and the rest of his family have begun warning other families of the dangers of the “Blackout Challenge” and other viral TikTok trends. “We are desperate… to ensure that nothing like this happens to anyone else,” the family wrote. “We urge the community to spend awareness about Joshua and the real risks involved in not having knowledge of what kinds of activities children are involved in.”
The death of another 12-year-old boy in Oklahoma has sparked engagement in community activism against harmful TikTok trends. Family and parents have gathered together to raise awareness of the growing harm viral Internet challenges pose on children.
According to Justin Ruben, the co-director of ParentsTogether, this trend and many like it are common among children and prove extremely dangerous. “With millions of young kids on TikTok, dangerous challenges can spread like wildfire and quickly turn tragic, as with the recent death of [Joshua Haileyesus].” ParentsTogether is a national organization that brings families together to address issues such as the “Blackout Challenge” and has issued a statement calling TikTok to regulate such trends.
Mitchell Prinstein, the chief science officer at the American Psychological Association, said that “kids are biologically built to become much more susceptible to peers in adolescence.” He claimed that “social media has magnified those peer influence processes to be much, much more dangerous than they were before.”