Mom Speaks Out After Girl, 12, Sets Herself on Fire While Attempting Viral ‘Fire Challenge'
The "challenge" has gone viral thanks to videos posted to YouTube by young users
A 12-year-old girl is recovering from the severe burns she received to nearly half of her body while she attempted a viral and dangerous internet challenge.
Just minutes into a mid-afternoon nap on Friday, Brandi Owens was awoken by a loud pop that echoed throughout her home. Moments later, Owens saw her daughter, Timiyah Landers, running down their halfway engulfed in a fireball that covered almost her entire body.
“She was running down the hallway past my bedroom on fire from her knees to her hair,” Owens, a mother of five from Detroit, tells PEOPLE. “I just screamed, ‘My baby!’ It was so awful.”
Owens and her fiancé then used towels to extinguish the flames, then placed the young girl in the bathtub and sprayed her down with cold water.
“I burned my hands in the process,” Owens, 35, says. “It was so traumatizing to see her on fire.”
The family rushed Timiyah to Beaumont Health, and she was transported to a nearby children’s hospital by the end of the night. She will stay there for the next several months to recover from the extensive second- and third-degree burns that cover 49 percent of her body.
“Her vitals are good, but she’s still on a ventilator and feeding tube. They’re slowly trying to wean her off the ventilator,” Owens says. “It will be a long recovery. She had surgery and received temporary artificial skin to her burns, but she’s going to need three or four more surgeries and skin grafts.”
It wasn’t until Owens questioned the two friends who were with Timiyah during the incident that she learned the horrifying truth about what occurred. The girls were engaging in a viral internet trend that sees people douse themselves with rubbing alcohol and then set themselves aflame, known as the “fire challenge.” Videos of the dare have gone viral over Facebook and YouTube.
“After a while, her friends told me what happened,” Owens says. “I was angry, very angry. I couldn’t believe she would do that, she knows better — I don’t know what she was thinking, doing that crazy stuff.”
Stories about young people becoming injured due to viral internet challenges are in no short supply.
In 2017, a couple from Texas connected their 15-year-old son’s suicide to the “Blue Whale Challenge,” a game where participants are asked to fulfill a series of increasingly dangerous dares over the course of 50 days. Earlier this year, an internet trend called the “Tide Pod Challenge” went viral after participants filmed themselves biting into the potentially deadly laundry detergent capsules.
Last month, 18-year-old Anna Worden was hospitalized while attempting the popular “Kiki Challenge,” a once innocent dance trend that soon turned dangerous when thousands of people began to record themselves hopping outside of moving cars to dance to a Drake song.
After her extended hospital stay, Timiyah is expected to make a full recovery. A GoFundMe has been set up to help pay for the family’s mounting medical expenses, which has raised over $2,400 from 50 donors in just under a week.
Because she remains on a ventilator, Timiyah cannot yet tell her mother what influenced her decision to participate in the challenge. But Owens isn’t waiting to raise awareness for other parents about the dangerous dare.
“Monitor your kids, monitor what they’re doing. If you can get parental control on their phones, I would recommend that,” she says. “That way they can monitor what their kids are watching, and talk to them about peer pressure. I’m doing that now with my other daughters, I’m doing that now. It was a lesson learned.”
She adds: “I hate having these memories. It’s something I never want to relive.”