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Amherst eighth-grader dies after attempting the ‘blackout challenge’

Amherst eighth grader Nate Squires was found unresponsive June 12 after he attempted the "blackout challenge." He died two days later.
Amherst eighth grader Nate Squires was found unresponsive June 12 after he attempted the "blackout challenge." He died two days later.GoFundMe

A teenager from Amherst died after attempting a stunt known on social media as the “blackout challenge,” according to a GoFundMe page that was started by one of his relatives.

Nate Squires was found unresponsive June 12 after he tried the viral “blackout challenge,” which involves trying to choke oneself or another to the point of passing out. He died two days later.

Squires, 14, was an eighth-grader at the Amherst Regional Middle School.

Amherst Regional Public Schools Superintendent Michael Morris said counseling and support services were being made available to students and staff to help them cope with the loss. He also extended his condolences to Squires’ family and friends.

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“My heart goes out to his family,” Morris said in a telephone interview Thursday. “It’s incredibly heartbreaking. In my role as superintendent and as a parent I get choked up thinking about it. It’s an experience no parent should have to go through. My heartfelt condolences go out to Nate’s family and everyone who was connected to him. This is an unthinkable experience.”

The GoFundMe page was started by Samantha Thomas, a sister-in-law to Nate’s parents.

“I am starting this Go Fund Me page for my sister-in-law and brother-in-law, Rachel and Dave, who tragically lost their son, Nate on June 14th after succumbing to injuries of a horrible accident,” Thomas wrote on the GoFundMe page. “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 may face in the upcoming months as they deal with the aftermath of this nightmare.”

Thomas said Nate’s parents want to raise awareness about the dangers of the “blackout challenge” so other families don’t experience a tragic loss like this.

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“Both Rachel and Dave want the world to know of the circumstances that surround Nate’s death to ensure that this does not happen to another family,” she wrote. “All over the world families are losing children to this. 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.”

As of Thursday, the GoFundMe campaign had surpassed its $25,000 fundraising goal.

The “blackout challenge” is not a new phenomenon; it’s been called the “choking game” or the “pass-out game” and other names over the years. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said children will typically try it in an effort to reach a brief euphoric state or “high,” and death or serious injury can result if strangulation is prolonged.

A 2008 CDC study that looked at the number of deaths attributed to the practice found that there were three or fewer deaths per year reported in the news media from 1995 to 2004. That number rose to 22 deaths in 2005 and 35 in 2006.

That CDC study found that 87 percent of those who died were male, and most were between 11 years and 16 years old. The average age was 13.

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Emily Sweeney can be reached at emily.sweeney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.