Possible clues in Queen Creek teen's suicide point to deadly online challenge

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The family of Rudy Bencomo believe his suicide may be linked to a dangerous "online suicide game." (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) The family of Rudy Bencomo believe his suicide may be linked to a dangerous "online suicide game." (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Rudy's death may have been part of Blue Whale Challenge, a sinister suicide game online. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Rudy's death may have been part of Blue Whale Challenge, a sinister suicide game online. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
The Bencomos want to let other people know about the "Blue Whale Challenge" and prevent teen suicides. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) The Bencomos want to let other people know about the "Blue Whale Challenge" and prevent teen suicides. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Rudy changed his Twitter photo just before he died. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Rudy changed his Twitter photo just before he died. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)

Tragedy struck in a Queen Creek neighborhood after a teenage boy went missing.  It was Friday, Aug. 4. 

"I knew the longer it took, they weren't gonna find my son alive and that's exactly what happened," said Deanna Bencomo.

A small memorial now marks the tree that helped 17-year-old Rudy Bencomo end his life.

"Call it intuition, a feeling, I don't know. I knew my brother was in that wash, already knew," said Aileen Bencomo.

In Rudy's room, the clothes he was wearing on his last day are folded over a chair, next to the backpack found near his body. There was no note and no explanation.  

His family is devastated and in disbelief. 

"Sometimes I think he's going to walk in the door, but I know that's not true," said Deanna.

"Me and my mom tried to rack our brains. Where did it start? You try to backtrack," said Aileen.

"We talked about everything with little to no filter at all, so it's just confusing that it kind of seemed to come out of nowhere," added Rudy's brother Robert. 

The youngest of four, Rudy was just starting his last year at Queen Creek High School. He was already taking college classes and looking forward to a future in sports medicine.

"I always thought, 'not my son' because he was a good kid, got straight A's, polite to everybody," said Deanna. 

But earlier this year, his entire family noticed a change. He had a new group of friends and was isolating himself from his family.

"He would always be on his phone and it was like, his phone was a drug and he needed it," said Deanna. 

"I was very worried and I felt like I didn't know who my brother was anymore," said his youngest sister, Joleen. 

 They say the changes in his behavior didn't stop with his obsession with social media. 

"At one point Rudy became a very good liar," said Joleen.

"Lies that we were abusive to him and all kinds of different things," added Deanna.

It was inexplicable and painful for the family to learn.

"He even went so far as, I went around my family and was trying to gain custody of him and take him into my home. But we never had that conversation," said Robert.

Even more disturbing, they say Rudy tried to commit suicide twice before.

During the first incident, after taking a bunch of pills, he ended up in the back of an ambulance in front of an audience.

"My son was sitting there gasping for air yet he had his phone on his side and he was Snapchatting the whole time," said Deanna.

Rudy's second attempt was worse.

"He cut himself and he was taken to the hospital. That was his attempt, and from there he had to go to a behavioral hospital for nine days," explained Deanna. 

She said she immediately got her son help. He was in therapy three times a week and she monitored his social media, keeping a close eye on him. 

It was then she says, someone told her about the Blue Whale Challenge, a sinister suicide game online. So she looked it up and the signs were there. 

"When I read that, it was all Rudy. Everything it said to look out for in your child was Rudy," she explained. "From social media to the behavior changing to isolation. All that," said Deanna.

The dark online game consists of 50 days or demands that start simple and gradually lead to the last challenge, suicide. It's said to have started in Russia and is reportedly linked to more than 100 deaths around the world.

"He was influenced by something, and something had a good grip on him"

News reports here in the U.S. show it may be connected to the deaths of a 15-year-old boy in Texas and a 16-year-old girl in Georgia.

Back in May, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery warned parents of the deadly online game trending on social media.

"He was influenced by something, and something had a good grip on him," said Robert of his brother. 

Although there's not a lot of evidence, the Bencomos believe it's a possibility Rudy was involved in the Blue Whale Challenge.

"I've noticed that there are several challenges of cutting yourself lengthwise, and it's very specific. It's oddly specific. It tells you to do it three times on your left arm. It doesn't make any remark to your right arm. It says to do three on your left and that's exactly what he did," describes Robert about the time Rudy ended up in the hospital. 

Another demand from the challenge also got the family's attention.

"Go an entire day without talking to someone, and those are things I've noticed him do," he said.

And probably the biggest clue was Rudy changed his Twitter photo just before he died. His mom explains the significance. 

"It tells you at the end when you take your life, you need to show some kind of sign, symbol, pertaining to the blue whale. And to me, water, waves, is part of a blue whale, I believe. And then the Zzzz's in the back of his picture. Sleep," describes Deanna.

Another part of the challenge includes waking up at 3 or 4 in the morning. 

"He always looked so tired. If you were to like see his pictures from before and then the recent pictures, he looked drained," she said as she described her son in recent months. 

Experts say all of these demands pave the way for online manipulation. 

"Sleep deprivation. No contact with people to balance our thoughts or perceptions. No one to keep us in check with reality. And soon enough, that distinction between reality and not real becomes blurred and at that point, you're willing to do or able to do things that you wouldn't normally do," explains Dr. Michael Yasinski, a Valley psychiatrist.

Dr. Yasinski explains the significance of the "cutting" part of the challenge as "a way to gauge incrementally how far someone is willing to go." 

He says the stories Rudy told about his family could also play an important role in the game. 

"To ultimately take part in this kind of challenge and kill himself in this manner you would almost have to make up these lies to disconnect yourself enough from the ones that care about you," explained Dr. Yasinski.

He says parents should be highly-concerned about the dangers of social media and how kids have become desensitized to traumatic events like suicide.

"It's like no big deal. They don't take it seriously," said Aileen.

It's something Rudy's family discovered while looking through his tweets. 

"They discussed suicide like, like it's a normal conversation," said Deanna. 

"I don't think these kids realize how to handle it, what to say or how to make things better for the other kids that are talking like that," said Aileen.

In the past year, three students at Queen Creek High School have ended their lives while several others have tried.

The latest numbers from the Arizona Department of Health Services show teen suicides have skyrocketed a shocking 81% since 2009 in our state. 

[MOBILE/APP USERS: Click/tap here to see graph of increase in suicides in Arizona children]

"I've always thought of my brother as a very strong-willed person. I thought he would be the last person on Earth to do that," said Joleen.

Dr. Yasinski advises parents to spend time with their kids, have open communication and show unconditional love to stay connected. He warns sometimes the kids who appear to be successful by conventional definitions are often times the ones who need a closer look. 

And he says parents should do more than set limits on social media. It should come with a serious conversation. 

"Limit setting within the context of them really understanding the scope of danger, those are the parents that are successful in helping their kids," he explains. 

According to the AZDHS, there are several factors that can help identify a child at risk:

  • Behavioral health issues
  • Mood disorders
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Substance abuse
  • Impulsive/aggressive tendencies
  • History of trauma or abuse
  • Major physical illness
  • Family history of suicide and previous suicide attempts
  • Easy access to lethal means
  • Lack of social support and a sense of isolation
  • Stigma associated with asking for help
  • Lack of health care, especially mental health and substance abuse treatment.  

Since Rudy's death, a crisis hotline has been added to the student IDs at Queen Creek High School.

This week, the principal sent out a letter, outlining the steps the school is taking with suicide awareness and prevention efforts. They're planning presentations during English classes for all grades throughout the year.

Rudy's loved ones want to help ensure that no other family has to endure what they are going through and no children feel that suicide is an answer to their problems.

"I'm here today so I can help other parents and let them know they need to be in their kids' business. Look at their phone, who they're talking to," said Deanna.

"If I could help another kid not feel like that and not have that happen to someone else's family, that's what I'm willing to do," said Aileen.

There are several resources to help:

[PDF: Suicide statistics of children in Arizona]

Click/tap here to download the free azfamily mobile app.

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