Caleb Logan Bratayley, 13-year-old star of a popular family YouTube channel, died of “natural causes” last week. Apart from a handful of photos and videos, the family has remained silent about the matter, asking their million-plus fans to bear with them as they “deal with this tragedy” together.

But though the Bratayleys (a pseudonym, per ABC) are keeping quiet about the death of their oldest child, their fans have been unable to contain their heartache. The hashtag #ripcaleb has been trending on Instagram for days, and is a sad, strange window into the world of public tween mourning in 2015.

Many of the posts feature images of Caleb coupled with depressing music, on which a message like “RIP Caleb” is superimposed.

Others are photos of the fans themselves, dealing with their sadness by sharing tear-filled selfies, drawings, or temporary body art.

We all deal with tragedy in different ways, and Instagram hashtags represent something that’s not as much new as it is newly visible. Mourning hashtags make it possible not only to easily share grief, but to view collective grief all at once, in a backlit tapestry of public despair. #RIPCaleb is a sad place to scroll through, and one made sadder by the lack of information about Caleb’s sudden death. Commenters—who must be confused about the concept of death to begin with—are using some of the most popular posts as forums in which to share their own theories, such as:

  • “He had a panick attack, his heart stopped beating 😧😧 everyone sub to them”
  • “Did he have hart problems?”
  • “people are saying it’s because he had an anxiety attack and went to sleep then he never woke up beaus of heart failure or something. but that’s just what everyone is saying.”

After spending the morning viewing post after post about this tragic death, there’s one I just can’t shake: a short video uploaded by a girl who appears to be a good friend of Caleb’s sister Annie. It’s a heartbreaking video, and one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen on the internet. In it, she confirms the rumors of Caleb’s death to her 10.6 thousand followers, offers emotional support, and shares an optimistic sentiment about Caleb’s legacy.

It’s captioned, simply, “@presshandstands”—the username of Annie Bratayley.

Here is tween mourning in a nutshell: genuine sorrow with nowhere to go but everywhere, looping endlessly on a screen.


Contact the author at bobby@jezebel.com.