AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) - The family of 12-year-old Joshua Haileyesus has a warning to others about the danger of challenges encouraging children and teens to try to choke themselves. The warning comes as they watch their son remain on life support a week after he tried holding his breath for too long. While it is unclear where he got the idea, they worry that social media platforms are helping to spread the idea without parents' knowledge.
"If I just give up on him, I'm just walking away from son," said Haileyesus Zeryihun, the boy's father. "He's a fighter, I can see him fighting, I am praying for him every day."
Mr. Zeryihun says his son Joshua was home last Monday playing video games when he came to their house leaving one job and getting ready to head to another that day. He never made it to work because he got a call to come back home. Haileyesus's twin brother found him inside a bathroom; he had used a shoelace to try and choke himself, according to the father.
"I couldn't take it there, I was on the floor, I was crying," Zeryihun said about visiting the hospital. "It was just heartbreaking to see him, laying on the bed."
Family members say they are worried Haileyesus tried some version of the "Passout Challenge" which is also called the "Blackout Challenge" and can go by other names that reference a game and choking. They say it has been around for some time online including videos on YouTube, but they think it is getting more traction recently on platforms like TikTok. Their concern that this type of tragedy could happen to another family compelled them to speak about what happened a week ago.
"Told me the bad news that he's not going to survive, he's not going to make it, I couldn't imagine," his father remembers the doctor's explaining to him last Monday. "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."
Zeryihun told CBS4 on Monday that his son loved to play soccer along with video games and he had a passion for the army. He loved to challenge himself and compete, which he worries may have influenced his decision to try this choking game. But he also shared that his son was a promising young speaker who could have become a pastor.
"I would never imagine my son would do such a thing," he said. "I'm paying the price right now, I'm living the life, and I hate for other parents to go through this."
While the family prays for Haileyesus to recover, they hope that their experience alone prevents another family from suffering in the same way. Zeryihun says it is not enough for parents to know about this challenge, they have to talk to their children. So siblings feel comfortable telling them about anything they see or hear before someone gets hurt. CBS4 looked for posts on TikTok and could not find any, the platform does warn users to seek help when searching for this content or explains it is not compatible with their user agreement policy.
"If I go through it, I don't think anybody need to go through it," Zeryihun said.
The family is part of the Ethiopian community in Aurora, which hosted a prayer gathering Monday night outside of Children's Hospital Colorado. A GoFundMe has already raised more than $130,000 for the family as well.
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