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Amherst teen dies after attempting viral ‘blackout challenge’

"Our entire family feels like the rug has been ripped out from under us."

Family members of Nate Squires, a 13-year-old student at Amherst Regional Middle School, are bringing awareness to a viral TikTok challenge they say left the teenager dead. Squires suffered fatal injuries on June 14 after attempting the “blackout challenge,” according to his family. He was found unresponsive in his home on June 12, and died two days later in the hospital.

The blackout challenge, which is not a new phenomenon and has many names, involves someone intentionally choking themselves to unconsciousness to achieve a kind of euphoria. It has been documented by the CDC, and a 2008 study on the “choking game” noted that the challenge is to “choke oneself or another in an effort to obtain a brief euphoric state or ‘high.’”

Samantha Thomas, the sister-in-law of Nate’s parents Rachel and Dave Squires, posted a GoFundMe benefitting the family on June 15.

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“Our entire family feels like the rug has been ripped out from under us and while Rachel and Dave have a long road ahead of them, the least we can do is try and take away any financial burdens that [they] may face in the upcoming months as they deal with the aftermath of this nightmare,” she wrote.

Thomas shared that the Squires want the world to know the circumstances that led to their son’s death to ensure it never happens to another family.  

“All over the world families are losing children to this,” Thomas wrote. “We ask that if you cannot donate, please reach out to a child in your life and talk to them about the black out challenge. Tell them about the dangers that are out there. Tell them to reach out to an adult if they hear about someone they know attempting it. We hope Nate’s story can help you start this conversation in your home.”

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According to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, Superintendent Michael Morris sent an email on Monday to families with students at the school informing them about the tragedy.

“It is a tragic situation,” Morris said in the email. “My heart goes out to the family and the community who knew Nate, and those who were close to him.”

The CDC’s 2008 study found 82 related deaths had occurred since 1995, with a significant increase in 2005 and 2006. Deaths were identified in 31 states, and 87% of deaths were among males with most occurring among those 11 to 16-years-old.

“This report is an important first step in identifying the choking game as a public health problem,” Ileana Arias, Ph.D., then director of CDC’s Injury Center, wrote in 2008. “More research is needed to identify risk factors that may contribute to kids playing the choking game and to determine what may help to reduce this type of behavior.”

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Nate’s death is not the first this year. In April, a 12-year-old Colorado boy who attempted the challenge spent three weeks on life support before he died, according to Today. In January, a 10-year-old girl in Palermo, Italy was declared brain dead after attempting the challenge by tying a belt around her neck, according to Ansa

Other dangerous viral Tik Tok challenges include the “skull breaker challenge,” which involves two people surprise-tripping a third in a move that could break their skull, the “blue whale challenge,” which is a series of self-harm games often ending in suicide, and the “Benadryl challenge,” which involves taking large quantities of Benadryl to achieve a hallucinogenic state.