Colo. boy, 12, in critical condition after reportedly doing TikTok 'blackout challenge'
Family members of the boy warned about the social media challenge that dares participants to choke themselves unconscious
The Denver Post
AURORA, Colo. — A 12-year-old Aurora boy who's in critical condition and on life support after his family said he participated in the "blackout challenge" — which he found on social media — had dreams of joining the Army and becoming a first responder.
On March 22, Joshua Haileyesus was found "breathless" on the bathroom floor by his twin brother and was taken by ambulance to Children's Hospital Colorado in Denver, according to a family statement included on a GoFundMe campaign to raise money to pay medical expenses.
The Aurora Police Department's Crimes Against Children Unit is investigating the incident, Matt Longshore, a police spokesman, confirmed Tuesday.
"We are still conducting interviews and gathering evidence," Longshore said. "We are keeping the family in our thoughts and prayers right now."
The Denver Post was not able to reach the family for comment.
"He is very, very much a fighter," Joshua's father, Haileyesus Zeryihun, told Denver7. "I want others to see what I'm going through, learn for their children."
The challenge, which dares participants to choke themselves until they lose consciousness, is also known as the "Passout Challenge" among other names. It has recently been "gaining traction on TikTok," the family's account said.
Joshua, described as "incredibly intelligent, funny, caring, and gifted," played the game without his parents' knowledge.
Anne Auld, director of education with Illuminate Colorado, a nonprofit whose aim is to keep kids safe in Colorado, described the incident as "heartbreaking."
Auld, who has no direct knowledge of what happened to Joshua, said more and more kids are turning to social media and online connections during the pandemic as they deal with being physically separated from friends and classmates.
"We have kids right now, their social connections are happening online and through social media," Auld said. "That is a place that can be both beneficial and dangerous."
Children are more susceptible to online influences than adults because a child's prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain, is not yet fully developed. The prefrontal cortex plays a role in decision-making, cognitive behavior and moderating social behavior.
"Kids are going to engage in more risky behavior," Auld said. "Their brains aren't fully developed yet."
Joshua enjoys hobbies, playing soccer and guitar, photography, screenwriting, costume design and 3-D modeling software, according to the family's account on GoFundMe. He's described as being a master of barbecue.
"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," the family wrote.
Born two minutes before his twin, Joshua has three younger brothers.
"Our family is devastated beyond belief by Joshua's circumstance," the family wrote. "We are saddened that someone who has a future as promising as Joshua is in such a critical and life-threatening situation at the moment."
The family asks the public to be aware of "games" like the blackout challenge.
"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," they said.
Created four days ago, the GoFundMe page had raised about $143,450 as of about 5 p.m. Tuesday, with a goal of $200,000. The funds will be used for medical and health expenses, according to organizers.
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