Vigil planned for teenager who died after One Chip Challenge

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WORCESTER, Mass. – The family of a teenager who died after eating an extremely spicy tortilla chip as part of a social media challenge will gather at a vigil Friday in memory of the promising basketball player as they respond to the message from authorities Massachusetts is waiting on the cause of death.

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Harris Wolobah died on September 1 and an autopsy is pending. But the 14-year-old’s family blamed the One Chip Challenge, which requires participants to eat the spicy chip and test how long they can last without consuming other food and water.

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Since his death, Texas-based manufacturer Paqui has urged retailers to stop selling the individually packaged chips, a step 7-Eleven has already taken.

The One Chip Challenge chip costs about $10 and comes packaged in a sealed foil bag enclosed in a coffin-shaped cardboard box. The packaging warns that the chip is designed for the “vengeful pleasure of intense heat and pain,” is intended for adults and should be kept out of the reach of children.

Paqui, a subsidiary of the Hershey Company, said in a statement posted on its website Thursday that it was “deeply saddened by the passing” of Wolobah.

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“We have observed an increase in teenagers and others not heeding these warnings,” the company said. “While the product continues to meet food safety standards, out of an abundance of caution, we are actively working with retailers to remove the product from shelves.”

Authorities in Massachusetts also responded to the teen’s family’s allegations by warning parents about the challenge, which is popular on social media sites like TikTok.

Many people, including children, are posting videos of themselves unwrapping the packaging, eating the spicy chips and then reacting to the heat. Some videos show people choking, coughing and begging for water.

“We urge parents to discuss this with their children and advise them not to participate in this activity,” Worcester County District Attorney Joseph Early said in a series of posts about the challenge on the social network X, formerly known as Twitter. “The company’s warnings state that the chips are intended for adult consumption. Other states across the country have seen hospitalizations due to the chip challenge, including among teenagers.”

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There are reports across the country of people becoming ill after participating in the challenge, including three California high school students who were hospitalized. Last year, paramedics were called to a school in Minnesota when seven students became ill after participating in the challenge.

“You may have very mild symptoms such as burning or tingling of the lips in the mouth, but you may also have more severe symptoms,” said Dr. Lauren Rice, chief of pediatric emergency medicine at Tufts Medical Center in Boston An opportunity for parents, coaches and teachers to learn about the various social media challenges that could pose dangers.

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“It’s because of the ingredients used in the tortilla chips,” she continued. “There are some spices like capsaicin, a chemical ingredient that we use in things like pepper spray. Therefore, they are very strong chemicals that can be very irritating. The more serious symptoms we see may include severe abdominal pain or nausea and vomiting.”

Dr. Peter Chai, an associate professor of emergency medicine and medical toxicology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, said the chips could be dangerous in certain circumstances.

“It is possible that eating these chips with high concentrations of capsaicin could cause death,” Chai said. “It would really depend on the amount of capsaicin a person was exposed to. At high doses it can cause fatal arrhythmias or irreversible heart damage.”

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Police in Worcester, the state’s second-largest city, said in a statement they were called to Wolobah’s home Friday afternoon and found him “unresponsive and not breathing.” He was transported to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Wolobah’s family and friends believe the chips caused his death, and his family called for the chips to be banned from shelves. A vigil for the teenager is planned for Friday evening at a park in Worcester, central Massachusetts.

“The chip, in our eyes, is responsible for everything that happened because he was a healthy boy,” said Douglas Hill, who runs the basketball league in which Wolobah played, describing him as a quiet teenager whose family was from Liberia in the USA came.

“The conversation now is about the chip, but there will be other challenges ahead and we want to make sure kids know they shouldn’t take part in anything that could put them in danger,” Douglas said Saturday organized a basketball event to honor the teenager.

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There’s little doubt why anyone would eat the chips.

In addition to the “One Chip Challenge” name, the package includes the challenge rules, which encourage the buyer to eat the entire chip, “wait as long as possible before drinking or eating anything,” and their reaction on social media to publish. The packaging also asks how long each person can last on a scale of one minute to one hour.

The back of the package warns shoppers not to eat the chip if they are “sensitive to spicy foods, allergic to peppers, nightshades or capsaicin, or are pregnant or have a medical condition.”

The warning adds that people should wash their hands after touching the chip and “seek medical attention if they experience difficulty breathing, fainting, or persistent nausea.”

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