The “devastated” family of a 9-year-old Tennessee boy who was found unresponsive in his room last week is blaming his death on a reported TikTok challenge that dares people to strangle themselves and escape.
“To see that baby laying in that casket, hasn’t even had an opportunity to grow up,” Barbara Williams, a great-great-aunt of LaTerius “TJ” Smith Jr., told WREG-TV in Memphis. “You know, his life has ended because of some people putting stupid things on various sites.”
The boy’s family rushed him to the hospital last week after finding him unconscious with a belt around his neck. He was pronounced dead June 10.
“It wasn’t until later on that we found out there was some type of video on TikTok, you know, letting kids know … how to strangle yourself,” Williams told the station. “But you got to get out of it, the challenge was to get out of it. But he’s 9 years old, he’s 9 years old, so how was he going to get out of it?”
TJ would have turned 10 years old at the end of the month, according to his obituary.
“TJ was a fun-loving, full of energy bundle of joy who touched many lives!! He loved his mother, father and his family as a whole. TJ loved God!! He enjoyed going to church!!” his obituary said, adding that he sang in the choir at his church.
A TikTok spokesperson told the station dangerous challenges like the Benadryl challenge and the blackout challenge have been banned by the site.
A 10-year-old girl in Italy died earlier this year under similar circumstances after she allegedly took part in the blackout challenge, The Guardian reported.