A 15-year-old high school student is quite possibly the latest victim of a macabre online game called the "Blue Whale Challenge" after he was found hanging in his bedroom closet, his cell phone propped up to record his death.
Isaiah Gonzalez's family told San Antonio TV station WOAI that they believe Gonzalez's death was the final task in a 50-day Internet challenge that encouraged participants – primarily teens and young adults – to complete a number of daily tasks ranging from watching horror films to self-mutilation. The challenge also allegedly requires participants to take photos of themselves posing in dangerous positions, such as on the edge of a roof or on train tracks.
Isaiah's father, Jorge Gonzalez, told WOAI that the family is certain the teen was involved with the challenge because he had sent his friends pictures of the completed tasks. "It talks about satanic stuff and stuff like that and my son was never into that," he said.
Added Isaiah's sister Scarlett Cantu-Gonzalez, "[His friends] blew it off like it was a joke and if one of them would have said something, one of them could have called us, he would have been alive [today]."
Another one of Isaiah's sisters, Alexis, told the TV station that someone behind the challenge had gathered personal information from Isaiah and had threatened to harm his family.
Isaiah's story is not a unique one, however. Earlier this week, a Georgia woman told CNN that her 16-year-old daughter had killed herself as part of the challenge, but asked that their names not be used.
Nationally, the Associated Press reports that educators, law enforcement officers and parents have raised concerns about the challenge, though these two back-to-back deaths mark the first allegations in the United States about deaths directly linked to the online game. Internationally, suicides in Russia, Brazil, and half a dozen other countries have already been linked to the challenge.
"It's a reminder of one of the many dangers and vulnerabilities that children face using various social media and apps online every day," Agent Michelle Lee of the FBI's San Antonio office told the AP. "Parents must remain vigilant and monitor their child’s usage of the internet."