So far this year two American families have spoken out about a social media game called the "Blue Whale Challenge" that they claim caused their teenage children to commit suicide.
The father of 15-year old Isaiah Gonzalez found him hanging in a bedroom closet with a cellphone propped up nearby. His father told KABB he believed his son had livestreamed his suicide as part of the challenge. Parents of a 16-year-old girl from Atlanta, Georgia told CNN they believe she killed herself because of the challenge.
The game started in Russia and according to unverified reports, may be linked to as many as 130 teen suicides across Russia.
Here's how it works: after joining the social media group, an administrator assigns daily tasks that increase in danger over a period of 50 days. The tasks were originally found and shared on Reddit. The tasks range from watching a horror movie to hurting a family member. Victims are told to send photographic proof that they completed each challenge.
The last task is to commit suicide.
Earlier this year, 22-year-old Philipp Budeikin plead guilty to inciting teenagers to commit suicide. On July 17th he was sentenced to three years in prison by a Siberian court.
The closed-door trial centered around his confession to two cases in which the "brainwashed" victims were saved.
After his sentencing, he told Russian press his victims were "biological waste" and he was "cleansing society".
According to a CNN report, online searches for Blue Whale in the United States began in late February, with interest spiking across the country in mid-May. Which is why police departments across the country have been preemptively issuing warnings about the challenge to parents and school officials.
Suicide is the third-leading cause of death among Americans age 10 to 14 and the second among people 15 to 34, according to 2015 statistics from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“I want them to go through their phones, look at their social media. If they’re on that challenge already, they can catch that from happening.”
The Gonzalez family is urging parents to keep a close eye on their teen's phones and social media accounts.
If you or someone you love is considering suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, available 24 hours every day:1-800-273-8255. An online chat is also available, or you can text HOME to the National Suicide Hotline at 741741 (only available in the U.S.)