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'This is not a game': Parents speak out after TikTok 'blackout challenge' sends child to ER

Joshua Haileyesus
Posted at 1:39 PM, Mar 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-30 14:00:41-04

AURORA, Colo. — Several dozen friends, family and neighbors of Joshua Haileyesus gathered at Children's Hospital Colorado on Monday night to pray.

Joshua has been fighting for his life in the hospital after participating in a social media challenge requiring participants to attempt to pass out using household items.

"He is very, very much a fighter," his father, Haileyesus Zeryihun, said. "I want others to see what I'm going through, learn for their children."

The "blackout challenge" is a trend on social media apps, like TikTok, that encourages children to choke themselves until they lose consciousness.

Joshua was home with his brother when he saw the trend on the social media app and attempted it himself. It was several minutes before his brother found him.

A week later, his family is praying for a medical miracle.

"I can't even describe the grief and the devastation," said Hirut Yitayew, a family friend. "Nobody could ever imagine this would happen to a 12-year-old."

Joshua has used social media frequently, and his parents say it has helped him learn and gain connections to new passions like cooking, guitar and acting. He was exposed to the positive aspects of the social media and technology, helping him gain exposure for his creativity across the internet.

But the platforms also present their dangers too.

"This is something that kids need to be given to be taught, to be counseled. Because this is a serious a serious thing," said Haileyesus Zeryihun. "It's not a joke at all. And you can treat it as if somebody is holding a gun. This is how dangerous this is."

This story was originally published by Sloan Dickey at KMGH.