Michigan Boy, 12, Severely Burned by Friends in Viral ‘Fire Challenge’: It's 'Heartbreaking'
The challenge involves dousing someone in flammable liquid, setting the body on fire, and recording it
A Michigan mother is speaking out on the dangers of the viral “Fire Challenge” after her 12-year-old son suffered second-degree burns when his friends dangerously gave it a go.
Tabitha Cleary said her son Jason was at a friend’s house in Dearborn Heights on Saturday when he was sprayed by a friend with nail polish remover and lit on fire.
The stunt was inspired by a YouTube challenged dubbed the Fire Challenge, in which participants douse themselves in flammable substances, light each other on fire, and then record what happens.
Cleary told NBC affiliate WDIV that she realized something was wrong as soon as she saw her son emerge from the house with no shirt on.
“I immediately started to freak out, I’m like, ‘Take him to the hospital, take him to the hospital!’ ” she recalled. “I’m starting to cry, he’s crying.”
Jason told the outlet that his friends lit him aflame twice, though the first was described as “little tiny fire” that they quickly swatted out.
“Then the second time, it [flared up] and they kept spraying it on me,” he said. “Once my dad finally opened the door and said, ‘Let’s go to the hospital’ … I was in the backseat, still in much, much pain.”
Cleary said that watching her son endure his pain was “heartbreaking,” and that she hopes to spread the word by alerting other parents.
“I just want everybody to know that these challenges, or whatever they’re watching on YouTube, is not worth risking your life,” she said. “I mean, my son got burned second-degree, and it could’ve been way worse.”
Jason was reportedly released from the Children’s Hospital of Michigan after four days.
Neither Cleary nor the Dearborn Heights Police Department immediately responded to PEOPLE’s requests for comment.
A spokesperson for the police department told WDIV that Child Protective Services were called to the house at which the incident occurred, and an investigation is underway.
Child Protective Services declined to comment, citing privacy laws, when reached by PEOPLE.
The Fire Challenge has circulated since at least 2014, and in August 2018, a 12-year-old girl in Detroit made headlines after her attempt left nearly half of her body covered in burns.
“Monitor your kids, monitor what they’re doing,” her mother Brandi Owens told PEOPLE at the time. “If you can get parental controls on their phones, I would recommend that … I hate having these memories. It’s something I never want to relive.”
YouTube cracked down on dangerous stunts such as the Fire Challenge with a new set of policies in January that banned anything deemed harmful or dangerous.
The video-sharing platform said at the time that users would have a two-month grace period to review their videos and remove anything that could be considered dangerous. After that, videos deemed harmful would receive a strike, and three strikes would lead to the removal of a channel.
The new policies came not only after the Fire Challenge, but after similar dangerous challenges, like the Cinnamon Challenge and the Tide Pod Challenge.