When 12-year-old Messiah Davis heard the news that 13-year-old YouTube star Caleb Logan Bratayley had died, her first instinct was to click on her favorite messenger app, Kik.
“I can’t believe that he has gone,” she shared to her followers. “He will be missed.”
Sixth-grader Messiah is among tens of thousands of children turning to social media to collectively grieve over the sudden, mysterious passing of Caleb, whose real-life last name was LeBlanc.
The Internet personality, made famous by his family’s reality TV-style Web series “The Bratayleys,” died Oct. 1 of “natural causes” at his home in Maryland. His memorial service, which was streamed live via Facebook and Periscope on Tuesday, was viewed more than 116,000 times within its first hour.
“Messiah is in shock,” her mom, Tanganyika R. Watts, a 51-year-old p.r. executive from Charlotte, S.C., tells The Post. “She had a real attachment to the Bratayley family.”
It’s a common reaction that can be seen across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram as the nation’s text-obsessed tweens and teens unite in their heartache.
Using the hashtag #ripcaleb, they express denial, frustration, depression and despondency. Kids talk about crying for days and holding candlelight vigils for their idol. Some have produced lengthy YouTube videos advertising their feelings on the tragedy as others swap tips on coping with loss.
While the mass outbreak of anguish has raised eyebrows among parents who fear it is maudlin, bereavement experts are largely supportive of the trend — especially because it shows a more caring side of the Internet rather than the anonymous bullying for which it is known.
“These kids can relate to Caleb because he was their age,” says Bob Thomas, CEO of grief support network Rainbows for All Children. “They are showing their vulnerability as they consider, perhaps for the first time, that this [sudden death] could happen to them.”
And Andy McNiel, CEO of the National Alliance for Grieving Children, maintains that kids listening to each other on social media can aid the healing process.
“It’s the established way they connect and interact with each other,” he says, citing group therapy as one of the most successful forms of counseling at NAGC. “Kids feel very comfortable dealing with each other at times like this.”
Still, both professionals are keen to point out that the online mourning should be monitored by adults.
“I’m all for children sharing and showing support for each other, but concerned about the lack of supervision over the content,” explains Thomas. “If someone writes, ‘This really depresses me, I want to kill myself,’ where is the overseer to rein that in?”
Meanwhile, Donna Schuurman, executive director of the Dougy Center for Grieving Children & Families, believes Caleb’s very public streamed memorial service was a positive move.
“Before they became sanitized, funerals were family occasions where you’d often see children taking part,” she says. “Kids are curious and want to learn and understand more about death.”
As for the tweens’ sense of sorrow, it is something that should definitely not be ignored.
“It’s healthy to be bringing that out into the public forum,” adds Schuurman, revealing that the support kids are showing each other online can be touching.
Take the comments of a young girl named Kristalee Covey, who was quick to comfort a fellow mourner on YouTube.
“I’m so depressed right now,” wrote user Sparkly Zee. “I can’t stop crying someone help me.”
Kristalee replied: “The way I stopped crying was [to] breathe in and out and then think of him [Caleb] and think of how strong he was . . . I’m sad a lot but it helped.”