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Lifestyle & Human Interest

12-Year-Old Boy Brain Dead After Family Says He Tried TikTok 'Blackout Challenge'

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On March 22, a 12-year-old boy from Aurora, Colorado, was found unresponsive on the bathroom floor by his twin brother.

His family believes he was participating in a risky social media challenge that has been around for some time and has reared its ugly head on TikTok most recently.

The “game,” known as the “Choking,” “Blackout” or “Pass-out Challenge,” encourages players to do exactly what the name suggests.

Joshua Haileyesus was found with a shoelace he’d used to choke himself, prompting his parents to believe he was using it to participate in the challenge.

Not only was the discovery tough on the family, leaving them “devastated beyond belief,” but the doctors caring for the boy have warned them that recovery is highly unlikely.

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“On Monday, March 22nd, Joshua was discovered breathless on the bathroom floor by his twin brother who tried to resuscitate him until neighbors and the ambulance arrived,” a GoFundMe page set up for the family reads.

“Unbeknownst to his parents, Joshua had been playing this dangerous game completely unaware of the risks involved. He is currently being intubated and the doctors have said that his chance for survival is extremely unlikely.”

“I couldn’t take it there, I was on the floor, I was crying,” Haileyesus Zeryihun, the boy’s father, told KCNC-TV. “It was just heartbreaking to see him, laying on the bed.”

“Told me the bad news that he’s not going to survive, he’s not going to make it, I couldn’t imagine. I was begging them, on the floor, pleading to see if they can give me some time, not to give up on him, not to give up on him.

“If I just give up on him, I’m just walking away from son. He’s a fighter, I can see him fighting, I am praying for him every day.”

Those who know Joshua say the boy had much promise. Bright, kind and incredibly curious, he had plans to join the military and help others.

“Everyone who knows Joshua can tell you what an incredibly intelligent, funny, caring, and gifted 12 year old he is,” the GoFundMe page continued. “Together with his twin brother, he would learn and master new hobbies out of pure curiosity and drive.”

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“Whether it was playing soccer, barbecuing sophisticated meals (better than any adult in our family can), practicing professional photography, experimenting with 3D modeling software, learning the ins-and-outs of acting including screen-writing and costume design, playing guitar, and planning his future of joining the Army before becoming a First Responder, Joshua has an excitement and passion for growing and learning.

“Beyond his tenacity for knowledge, Joshua has a love for people that you wouldn’t expect in a child. 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’s parents have three other sons — Caleb, Abenezer and Nathan — and they say that now all they can do is pray and warn other families of the dangers of this heartbreaking challenge.

“I would never imagine my son would do such a thing,” Zeryihun said. “I’m paying the price right now, I’m living the life, and I hate for other parents to go through this.”

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Amanda holds an MA in Rhetoric and TESOL from Cal Poly Pomona. After teaching composition and logic for several years, she's strayed into writing full-time and especially enjoys animal-related topics.
As of January 2019, Amanda has written over 1,000 stories for The Western Journal but doesn't really know how. Graduating from California State Polytechnic University with a MA in Rhetoric/Composition and TESOL, she wrote her thesis about metacognitive development and the skill transfer between reading and writing in freshman students.
She has a slew of interests that keep her busy, including trying out new recipes, enjoying nature, discussing ridiculous topics, reading, drawing, people watching, developing curriculum, and writing bios. Sometimes she has red hair, sometimes she has brown hair, sometimes she's had teal hair.
With a book on productive communication strategies in the works, Amanda is also writing and illustrating some children's books with her husband, Edward.
Austin, Texas
Languages Spoken
English und ein bißchen Deutsch
Topics of Expertise
Faith, Animals, Cooking