Joann Bogard says her 15-year-old son Mason Bogard had a normal, “great” day on May 1. She and her husband never expected that it would end in tragedy.
“He was feeling fine and everything was going well,” Joann tells PEOPLE. “Then he participated in a ‘Choking Challenge’ and it went horribly wrong.”
Joann says she and her husband noticed that Mason had been in the bathroom for longer than they thought. They checked on the teen and found him unresponsive. His father, Steve Bogard, performed CPR on him before Mason was rushed to the hospital.
He was pronounced brain-dead and later died on May 4.
“It was very emotional and sad and scary,” Joann says. “We prayed a lot. The doctors were doing everything they could, but it got to the point where we had to make some choices, and we decided on organ donation.”
Days after Mason’s death, Joann shared a Facebook photo of her holding his hand, writing, “Letting go of your hand was the hardest. Holding on to our memories with you…pretty easy…every day with you was full of laughs. We love you Mason.”
Joann says she’s sure Mason was participating in the social media “Choking Challenge,” in which individuals use temporary asphyxiation to achieve a brief moment of euphoria. She says the family turned over his phone and computer to authorities, and investigators learned that he had done the challenge just two days earlier.
However, she adds, the teen did not have his phone or record the act on the day he was found.
“What we want people to know from Mason’s message is, keep your eye on your kids. There’s a lot of things on the internet and even word of mouth. We live in a world where they’re exposed to so many things,” Joann tells PEOPLE. “So our message is, through Mason’s message, is try to come together as a community and try to protect the kids. Find ways to talk to them, have serious discussions with your kids. Be involved.”
The “Choking Challenge” has gone by many names over the years, including “Flatliner,” “Pass-Out Challenge” and “Space Monkey,” according to Time. In 2008, the CDC reported 82 deaths had been attributed to the “choking game” in recent years.
Staff at Deaconess Midtown Hospital gave Mason an “honor walk” after his death, as he was wheeled through the hospital before having his organs donated. Joann shared video footage of the event on Facebook, writing, “Our hero saved 5 lives!”
Now, Joann says, the family is still struggling to come to terms with the death, but they are looking to memories of the teen to carry them through the difficult time.
“It’s hour by hour. You just take it one step at a time,” she tells PEOPLE. “We’re sad and we miss him, but he really did do a lot in 15 years that left us with a lot of memories and a lot of laughs. A lot of fun times.”
Neither the Evansville Police Department nor the Vanderburgh County Sheriff’s office immediately responded to a request for comment from PEOPLE.