Online game warning

Online game warning

Woman blames Momo Internet challenge for grandson's death

Senior staff reporter

Monday, January 11, 2021

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A grandmother who says her 16-year-old grandson committed suicide last December after months of indulging in the repulsive Momo Internet challenge, which gained popularity in 2019, is warning other guardians and caregivers to closely supervise the online habits of their charges.

Momo — which is symbolised by a woman with long, black hair and bulging eyes — is said to pop up in the middle of children's cartoon programmes such as Peppa Pig or computer game Fortnite and on YouTube and YouTube Kids.

According to a bulletin issued by Jamaica's Ministry of Education in 2019, “The meme targets young children on social media, encouraging them to add a contact on the messaging platform WhatsApp or online games, and then sends them graphic images and messages. This character encourages our children to perform harmful acts without telling their parents. The video usually starts innocently, like the start of a Peppa Pig episode, but quickly turns into an altered version with violence and offensive language.”

The ministry, at that time, urged regional directors, school board chairmen, and principals of all institutions to help educate parents about the situation so that they could be vigilant in the supervision of their children in a bid to prevent them from becoming victims of Momo.

Fifty-two-year-old Marie Marella, who explained that her grandson Dominic Barrett was left in her care by his mother who is overseas, said that he told her he had been spending time at the nearby home of an aunt, where his smaller sister lived, when the incident occurred.

“Yuh know like a spirit a seh 'call him', but every time mi fi call him is like mi forget and go do something else. That time mi nuh know seh the little boy a go through a phase; him too far down inna di game an' him a listen to some demon song,” she told the Jamaica Observer last Thursday.

She said just how “far down” he supposedly got was only revealed on the morning of Saturday, December 12, when his lifeless body was discovered swinging from the roof of a room at his aunt's house, bound by a rope belonging to his dog.

“Him have a puppy and him always used to put the rope on the puppy to bathe the puppy. A di rope him tek an' hang himself. Him write out everything behind the back of the door over him auntie house. Him draw himself [his picture] behind the door and he wrote 'No, no, no' and then 'Yes', and then up at the head part him write 'Look, it is morning now' and a so dem find him dead,” Marella said.

She believes her grandson was duped into killing himself through the portal which, she said, promises that people who self-harm would return in another life. His belief in this promise, Marella said, was evidenced by the fresh suit of clothes and a pair of shoes found next to his body.

“There's a next part where him write seh if him dead him a go reborn inna the next life, and him put down a suit of clothes and a pair of shoes, him write out everything behind the door,” Marella said.

The teen's body, she said, was found by his eight-year-old sister who alerted family members.

The grieving grandmother said family members missed all the signs.

“The auntie say she see him did a act a way. She said most a di time a night-time him on the phone in the darkness with his earphones over his ears. When he talks to them he would say, 'I am God.'

“One day the auntie say she see him tek up the baby and hold the baby up in the air and talk in a language she never hear him talk before, and she say to him 'A what you a do?' and grab away the baby.

“She said she see him a fry egg and him push him finger down in the hot oil and say 'Mi don't feel it'. Dem think a joke; a when him dead now, what they see behind the door,” the grandmother related.

She said the youngster, who was a Corporate Area high school student, had been engaged in online classes and even attended mathematics classes on Saturdays prior to his untimely demise.

“Saturday a come is three weeks since him die. Him father come een like him outta him mind; him say him jus' want fi si him son fi ask him why him hang himself,” Marella told the Observer.

The grandmother said her reason for reaching out to the media was to alert other parents, adding that since sharing the tragedy some people have shared similar experiences.

“So mi a seh people should know 'bout dem game here and don't mek di children dem play it. Mi go a di store and one man say fi him son did a play di game and one day him say, 'Daddy, mi soon come,' and when him tek a stock and say how him son a tek so long and go look, the little boy inna di housetop hang up; dat a down a country. So mi a say, people need to know about this and what can happen to dem children, because they don't know what type of game dem children a play,” Marella stated.

She said family members are convinced that the cellphone which was lying next to his lifeless body can yield more clues as to what he did in the final moments before his death. The phone, the Observer was told, was taken by the Allman Town police who were alerted to the discovery of Barrett's body. Several calls to the Allman Town Police Station by the Observer went unanswered; however, an officer of the Constabulary Communication Unit (CCU), the communications arm of the Jamaica Constabulary Force, told the Observer that the death was being investigated as “a suspected suicide”.

Another CCU officer told the Observer that the police were not aware of the existence of triggers, such as the one outlined by Barrett's grandmother, playing a role in suicides in the island.

“The Ministry of Education last year issued a statement in regards to this game, but as for the police, it is different. If something happens we are going to try to ground it in law. Suicide in Jamaica is very low, and suicides involving children are very rare,” the officer said.

A Rolling Stone magazine report in February 2019 stated that stories started circulating in the English-speaking press about the dangers of the Momo challenge, quoting Internet safety “experts” urging parents to watch out for warning signs that their children were playing the game. One oft-cited report, Rolling Stone said, “suggests that a 12-year-old girl in Buenos Aires took her own life as a result of playing the Momo challenge, but such reports appear to be poorly sourced and unconfirmed”.

Prior to the novel coronavirus pandemic, approximately one million people died globally each year due to suicide. In Jamaica, officials say the rates are at at 2.1 per 100,000 or about 47 to 56 deaths per year.

Last year there were several cases of suspected suicides by youngsters. In August, eight-year-old Jasmine Keeling was found hanging at her home in St Catherine. In September, nine-year-old Bianca Spence, a Grade 3 Rousseau Primary student, succumbed to stab wounds believed to have been self-inflicted. That same month, eight-year-old Naomi Jones was found hanging from a clothing line at her home in Commodore, St Catherine.

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