Colorado boy, 12, dies after choking himself in TikTok ‘blackout challenge’

"After fighting the good fight on life support, Joshua has gone off to be with the Lord."

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A 12-year-old Colorado boy died on Saturday after participating in the viral Blackout Challenge on TikTok. 

Joshua Haileyesus spent nearly three weeks on life support after choking himself until he passed out last month. According to PEOPLE, his twin brother found him unconscious on the bathroom floor of their home on March 22. The boy’s parents believe he was “completely unaware of the risks involved” with the choking challenge. 

The family had set up a GoFundMe to help cover medical costs while Haileyesus spent 19 days on life support before his death. The campaign has raised more than $182,000. 

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“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 GoFundMe page stated. 

“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 family said. 

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

“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,” the statement continued. “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.”

During an interview with KCNC in March, Joshua’s father, Haileyesus Zeryihun, said doctors told him his son had a slim chance of surviving.

“[Doctors] told me the bad news that he’s not going to survive, he’s not going to make it,”  Zeryihun told Fox19 Now. “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.”

The “Blackout Challenge” encourages participants to choke themselves until they pass out. “Joshua was discovered breathless on the bathroom floor by his twin brother who tried to resuscitate him until neighbors and the ambulance arrived,” the donation page states.

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“I don’t know why people would do such things,” Zeryihun told Fox19 Now. “This is not a joke. This is not a thing to play with.”

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(Photo Illustration by Cindy Ord/Getty Images)

The family is now urging other parents to be aware of the dangerous Blackout challenge.

“We are also concerned for other families who like ourselves, may not be aware of the existence of the Blackout Challenge and others like it,” they wrote on the GoFundMe. “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.”

TikTok responded to the tragedy in a statement and reportedly offered “profound sympathies” to the boy’s family last month. 

“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 our platform,” the company said in a statement, according to the Associated Press.

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