Four teens, including a young mother, were killed in a car crash in Buffalo early this week in what authorities believe might be a result of the TikTok “Kia challenge,” which encourages car theft.
The incident occurred on the 198/33 interchange in Buffalo, New York, on Monday morning. All five passengers were ejected from their seats after crashing a Kia that was reported stolen Sunday night. Four of the six teens, identified as Marcus Webster, 19; Swazine Swindle, 17; Kevin Payne, 16; and Ahjanae Harper, 14, were killed in the accident.
The driver, a 16-year-old boy, was treated at the hospital and taken into police custody shortly after. He was charged with criminal possession of stolen property and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle and is expected to be arraigned on Friday. He is also set to appear in court in November.
A 15-year-old girl, identified as the fifth passenger, was taken to Erie County Medical Center and listed in good condition.
Harper, who was supposed to celebrate her 15th birthday on Nov. 1, was the mother of an infant girl. A fundraiser has been set up on GoFundMe for the teen.
Authorities believe the incident might be linked to the TikTok “Kia challenge,” in which teens are taught how to hotwire Kia and Hyundai cars manufactured in the last decade using only USB chargers and screwdrivers, Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia told reporters Monday.
“Kia America joins the Buffalo community in mourning the tragic crash involving six local teenagers early Monday morning, apparently the result of a theft of a Kia Sportage Sunday evening,” Kia America wrote in a statement released following the incident.
“Kia is aware of the recent trend amongst our youth — encouraged by social media — that target certain Kia cars with a steel key and ‘turn-to-start’ ignition systems. In many cases, the vehicles are stolen solely for the purpose of operating in a reckless and dangerous manner.”
While police have linked the incident to the TikTok challenge, Yotam Ophir, an assistant professor at the University of Buffalo’s communication department specializing in media effects, misinformation and extremism, told WIVB he believes the social media trend was an unlikely factor in the case.
“Isolating a specific video that seems detrimental, and assuming that it has a huge impact over people’s behavior, is just unreasonable from an empirical point of view. That’s not how media effects work,” Ophir told the local outlet.
“Most people don’t know about these challenges, most people don’t care about these challenges, and even if they watch these videos and find them amusing, it doesn’t mean they’re going to walk out and steal a car.”