Schools are warning parents about the so-called “Blue Whale Challenge.” The family of a Texas teen who hanged himself says their son was involved in the online game that calls to complete a series of tasks before taking their own lives.
Over the weekend, two teenage girls jumped off a pedestrian bridge in the Iranian city of Isfahan after falling prey to the deadly Blue Whale challenge, a police official said. The Isfahan province Police Chief says the girls were 16 and 15 years old, and jumped off Shahid Chamran pedestrian bridge under the influence of the Blue Whale game. According to media reports, one of them is dead and the other seriously wounded.
The horrifyingly dangerous game has been linked to hundreds of teen deaths around the world, particularly in Russia, where the game has been developed, but there are hundreds of thousands of posts relating to the sick trend on Instagram.
El Paso, Texas
An El Paso couple is mourning the loss of their son after they say he took part in the Blue Whale Challenge. The couple is now warning other parents to be vigilant.
Deangelo Bristow was 14 and had just started at Mission Early College High School. His parents, Maria and Anthony Bristow, said he was a bright kid who was excited for the future. They believe he committed suicide in early October because of the social media challenge. Maria Bristow said:
“The way we found Deangelo, the tablet facing him. It just made sense then.”
The challenge consists of a series of tasks, which are to be completed in a span of 50 days. They start off small, and build up over time. During the process, the participant is in touch with an online administrator or curator who tells them what to do and when to do it. Participants are then required to take pictures of their challenges being completed and share them before their directed to end their lives on the 50th day. A simple search of hashtags on Instagram shows users posting pictures of scars and cuts or memes that show suicide. On Twitter, the search shows users reaching out for curators to lead them through the game. The final task is committing suicide.
The Bristow’s want other El Paso families to be aware of this hidden danger children could be facing online, with Anthony saying:
“I want to let parents know to check kids and see if they changed the codes in their tablets or their computers, because his [password] was changed.”
The Bristows said Deangelo had dreams of working with computers and had a passion for karate, but that was all taken away too soon. Now, they hope they can prevent a similar tragedy from happening to other families in the Borderland with Maria saying:
“Parents need to know what’s going on. I want parents to just speak about it and not be quiet about it. There’s hundreds of parents, thousands of parents, who don’t know anything about this challenge.”
The Bristows say they’ll continue to be outspoken about it so they can get the word out to as many parents as they can.
San Antonio, Texas
The father of Isaiah Gonzalez told a San Antonio television station the teen was found hanging in his bedroom closet in July in the family’s home with his cell phone propped up on a shoe to record his death.
The San Antonio Police Department does not mention the challenge in the teens death report, but Gonzalez’ family said in the days after, they pieced together from Isaiah’s social media and communication with friends he was participating in the game.
Isaiah’s sister Alexis says a person behind the challenge gathered personal information from Isaiah and threatened to harm the family if he didn’t follow through.
The San Antonio police department did not return a message left by The Associated Press asking whether police were investigating the game, but parents and authorities are questioning if the game actually exists, saying that there’s a lack of suicides directly attributed to it.
FBI Agent Michelle Lee of the San Antonio office says the agency is not helping in the investigation, but urged parents to monitor their children’s online activities saying:
“It’s a reminder of one of the many dangers and vulnerabilities that children face using various social media and apps online every day. Parents must remain vigilant and monitor their child’s usage of the internet.”
Gonzalez is the second parent this week to tell the story of their child who died by suicide, allegedly as a result of the game. Monday, a Georgia woman spoke to CNN about her 16-year-old daughter killing herself as part of the challenge, but wanted to remain anonymous.
Schools, police, and parents across the country have been reporting about the rumors on the challenge for months, but it wasn’t until July that there were allegations about a death linked to the game. Suicides in Russia, Brazil and a dozens of other countries reportedly linked the challenge to cases that involved teenagers or young adults.
Parents say the teens reach out to game administrators called “curators” through social media platforms, and these curators lead the participants through 50 days of challenges, including watching scary movie clips, cutting symbols into their arms and legs, and taking pictures of themselves in dangerous positions such as on the edge of a roof or on train tracks.
The Center for Missing and Exploited Children has been notified of the challenge and wants parents to report to the center’s cyber tip line even if they feel like they do not have enough information to go to police. The group’s director of education and outreach Eliza Harrell says she didn’t know about the use of threats and intimidation, but said it was concerning saying:
“That really adds another level to this. We do not tend to address specific apps or games when we give advice to parents. When parents talk to their children, “the underlying conversation needs to be about dealing with strangers online and putting themselves in a position of trust. It’s an issue that a child is listening to someone anonymously and doing what they are told by a stranger to do.”