‘It’s killing our babies’: 12-year old dies in TikTok challenge
The blackout challenge has been linked to the deaths of at least 15 children ages 12 or younger in the past 18 months
By Molly Walsh
CLEVELAND — A 12-year-old boy from Richmond Heights died Tuesday after trying a dangerous game from social media that has gone viral, his family says.
Tristan Casson died attempting the “blackout challenge” on TikTok, one of the world’s most popular apps, the boy’s mother, Taylor Davis said. As part of it, participants are challenged to hold their breath or asphyxiate themselves until they pass out.
Davis called police before 9:30 p.m. Tuesday when her sons FaceTimed her after finding the 12-year-old unresponsive in his bedroom. She was just down the street from her home in the 500 block of Forsythia Lane at the time.
“They called me and said, ‘Mom, Tristan is dead’ and I just started to panic,” she said.
Richmond Heights paramedics took Tristan to Hillcrest Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. The incident is under investigation, police Chief Thomas Wetzel said.
Davis said her son died by strangulation and does not think her son was suicidal, but rather a victim from a dangerous trend circulating online. She said he always tried new dances and trends that were popular on TikTok.
In November, Bloomberg News reported that the blackout challenge has been linked to the deaths of at least 15 children ages 12 or younger in the past 18 months.
Cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer reached out to TikTok’s corporate offices in California for comment.
“He couldn’t wait for Christmas and the basketball season to start,” Davis said. “We always talked about goals, and he was excited for the future. He loved his family and his friends. He and his siblings are like peanut butter and jelly.”
Now, Davis wants to raise awareness for parents to monitor their children’s social media. She said she often checked her son’s phone, but his search history was cleared when she last checked.
“TikTok needs to control what it shows on its platform,” she said. “I have parental controls on everything, but these videos can pop out and be seen by children like my son no matter what.”
Davis said her son had a bright future. Earlier this year, the sixth grader was the first person at Richmond Middle School to obtain a license to fly a drone.
“He came home and held up his certificate and was so proud,” she said. “He is just so smart.”
Renee Willis, in a message to parents and the district’s community, said counselors have been in touch with fifth and sixth graders.
“We are a small, tight-knit district and community,” Willis wrote. “We will get through this together.”
Tanisha Watson, a friend of the boy’s mother, created a GoFundMe to help Casson’s family cover funeral expenses and said he was a loving boy with a bright future.
“I just wish that TikTok would ban these types of challenges from going around,” she said “It is killing our babies.”
In 2008, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report that at least 82 youths have died as a result of playing what has been called “the choking game. It involves intentionally trying to choke oneself or another in an effort to obtain a brief euphoric state.
Of those who died, 87 percent were boys or men, and most fatalities occurred among those 11 years to 16 years old, with the average age at 13, the report said. Choking game deaths were identified in 31 states.
The trend, or game, has gained popularity again on TikTok in the last year.
“On behalf of the City of Richmond Heights, we express our condolences to the family and our community on this tragic situation,” Wetzel said.
Davis said she wants people to remember her son as a smart, helpful, happy and loving person who loved dancing, his friends and his family.
“My baby had plans,” she said. “If I could say anything to him right now, it would be ‘I love you.’ ”