The TikTok “Choking Challenge” became one of the most controversial stories of 2021 in January when a young girl reportedly died taking part. Now, another child has allegedly fallen victim to the dangerous social media trend, according to his parents.
Twelve-year-old Joshua Haileyesus’ brother reportedly found him unconscious on his bathroom floor on Monday, March 22. According to Joshua’s father, Haileyesus Zeryihun, the boy had strangled himself with a shoelace.
“I couldn’t take it there, I was on the floor, crying,” the Colorado father said of seeing his son in the hospital later. “It was just heartbreaking to see him, laying on the bed.”
Doctors later told Joshua’s family he had become brain dead, and is unlikely to live.
“Told me the bad news that he’s not going to survive, he’s not going to make it,” said his father. “I was begging them on the floor, pleading to see if they can give me some time, not to give up on him. If I just give up on him, I feel like I’m just walking away from my son.”
A Victim Of a Viral Trend?
The family told news outlets they believe Joshua choked himself as part of the now-infamous “choking challenge” on social media. According to his father, the boy had been bragging about his ability to hold his breath days earlier.
“This is a serious, serious thing. It’s not a joke at all,” said Zeryihun. “And you can treat it as if somebody is holding a gun. This is how dangerous this is.”
In response to the tragedy, TikTok told Newsweek the choking challenge is not trending, and users who search for it are redirected to the site’s community guidelines.
“Our profound sympathies go out to the boy and his family,” a TikTok spokesperson told the outlet. “At TikTok, we have no higher priority than protecting the safety of our community, and content that promotes or glorifies dangerous behavior is strictly prohibited and promptly removed to prevent it from becoming a trend on the platform. We also block related hashtags and searches to discourage people from participating in or sharing potentially dangerous content.”
Friends and family members gathered outside Children’s Hospital Colorado on Monday, March 29 to pray for the boy’s recovery. Meanwhile, a GoFundMe page has been started to help pay for medical expenses.
“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,” a statement on the GoFundMe page read.
“We urge the community to [spread] awareness about Joshua and the real risks involved in not having knowledge of what kinds of activities children are involved in,” the statement continued.