A Massachusetts teenager died last week after eating an extremely spicy chip for a social media challenge, according to his family members.
Lois Wolobah told The New York Times she was called to the Worcester school of her 14-year-old son, Harris, on Friday because he was unwell and needed to go home.
She said Harris was clutching his stomach in the nurse’s office when she arrived. He indicated that he’d eaten a Paqui tortilla chip, which contains two of the world’s spiciest peppers, as part of the brand’s “One Chip Challenge.”
He was taken home from school and reportedly fainted about two hours later. He was taken to the hospital, where he died, his mother said.
Harris’ father, Amos Wolobah, told CBS News’ WBZ that his son had no preexisting conditions that they knew of. The family told the outlet he was a healthy basketball player with no known allergies.
The exact cause of Harris’ death is not clear, and while his family believes the Paqui tortilla chip played a role, that has not yet been firmly established. A spokesperson for the Massachusetts Medical Examiner’s office told media that a cause of death will not be finalized for weeks. In the meantime, Paqui, a brand based in Austin, Texas, has said it is “working with our retailers to remove the product from shelves.”
“The pain our family is experiencing is unimaginable,” reads a GoFundMe post set up by Harris’ relatives for funeral expenses. “Harris was a light that lit up the room with his presence and subtle charm. He was an intelligent, quirky and incredibly talented young man who loved video games and playing basketball.”
“We are deeply saddened by the news report and express our condolences to the family,” a Paqui spokesperson said in a statement to The New York Times. “It would be inappropriate for us to speculate or comment further.”
Worcester Schools Superintendent Rachel Monárrez described Harris as a “rising star” in a statement.
She said the school is offering counseling and grief support to staff and students.
The “One Chip Challenge” had dared people to consume a single spicy chip, which Paqui sells for $10, and to “wait as long as possible before drinking or eating anything” and post the results on social media.
The packaging warns that the chip is intended for adults only, and not for anyone who is pregnant or sensitive to spicy foods, or who has food allergies or underlying health conditions.
As of Wednesday morning, Paqui’s site for the challenge had been updated with a message reiterating that the challenge is intended for healthy adults only.
“We have seen an increase in teens and other individuals not heeding these warnings,” the site says. “As a result, while the product continues to adhere to food safety standards, out of an abundance of caution, we are actively working with our retailers to remove the product from shelves.”
The company said it is also offering refunds on the product.
Various iterations of Paqui’s challenge have existed over the years. On several occasions, school-aged children have been hospitalized after consuming the chip.