As her family tells it, Imani Bell ran a mile in the withering heat on Tuesday, then complained to her basketball coach that she didn’t feel well.
They said the 16-year-old was told to run up some steps anyway, just before she collapsed and died.
“The issue was the heat,” said Justin Miller, a cousin who is speaking for the family. Temperatures reached 100 degrees that day, which is hot even by Atlanta weather standards.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has completed an autopsy, but has not released the results.
The Clayton County Public Schools, meanwhile, isn’t answering questions about the incident at Elite Scholars Academy in Jonesboro.. A district spokesman on Thursday would not confirm the details of the family’s account, citing the ongoing investigation by the school district police as a reason for the silence.
The spokesman, Charles White, also cited respect for the family and the school community.
Miller, however, said the family wants answers. Was the coach on the school’s staff, or a volunteer? Was there a policy against outdoor exertion during a heatwave? Did the school system issue a warning about the heat?
Instead, family members are left with the lone public issuance from the school district superintendent, Morcease Beasley. It said how “very saddened” he and the rest of the district were and how they were “here to support” the family and everyone else.
“Why were they outside?” said Eric Bell, Imani’s father, during an interview with Channel 2 Action News. “The heat index was too high.”
Imani’s mother, Dorian Bell, said her daughter’s body was so hot that doctors had to place ice packs on her.
On Thursday morning, a reporter who went to the school was ordered off the property by police. The district’s silence didn’t sit well with Mollye Jones of Jonesboro, who was dropping off her grandson at the school. He plays on the high school’s basketball team.
“I think they should be talking to the GBI and at least saying something to [the media] instead of just ‘I’m sorry,’ ” she said during a telephone interview.
“I would not have wanted my child to be out there in the 100-degree temperatures, and I don’t understand why it would happen because usually schools, they tell you not to take children out when it’s that hot.” If Imani really was exercising outside, she said, “I think it was a bad decision.”
White, the Clayton schools spokesman, would not say whether the district has a policy on heat and exercise. The Georgia Board of Education does not, deferring instead to the governing body for sports, the Georgia High School Association.
That organization prohibits outdoor workouts at a wet bulb globe temperature above 92 degrees. Workouts are permitted below that temperature, with time restrictions. When the temperature rises above 86 degrees, the organization recommends that ice towels and spray bottles filled with ice water are made available during breaks. It’s constitution and bylaws mandate that cold immersion tubs are on hand “for the benefit of any player showing early signs of heat illness.”
The school district would not say whether any of those recommendations and requirements were met. The district also would not say whether the school was equipped with a defibrillator.
By the time Clayton County firefighters arrived, Imani was unresponsive. Battalion Chief Laura Richardson said her pulse and breathing stopped on the way to the hospital.
Firefighters administered CPR and began Advanced Cardiac Life Support. She regained a pulse, but was pronounced dead after her arrival at Southern Regional Medical Center.
The weather advisory, Miller said, was to “keep your dogs inside, but kids are OK to run a mile?” He said she had no pre-existing health conditions.
A major spirit
Imani was the oldest of six children, was a top student and wanted to play basketball for Stanford University, he said.
Others with a child or grandchild at the school spoke to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, but didn’t want their names used for fear of retaliation — against a student, in one case, and a mother, who works for the district, in another.
A mother in Jonesboro said she didn’t know a child had died until a reporter mentioned it as she drove into the school with her son Thursday morning. She asked him about it as he was preparing to exit the car.
“I was like, ‘somebody died at your school?’ And he was like, ‘Yeah,’ ” she said later. “I was just really shocked.”
Normally, the school and the school district send parents emails about everything, including the cancellation of after-school activities, she said. She checked her email account, though, and said she’d received none about either the weather or the death since Tuesday, adding that she never deletes school emails.
“I don’t know if this is different because of the circumstances,” she said. “It just kind of looks real suspect.”
Jones, the grandmother, said the school sent a letter home with her grandson Wednesday. It named Imani, expressed sympathy to her family and said crisis teams would be on hand. There was no other information, she said.
The district has not responded to queries about its communications with parents about the incident.
The death hit Mantrez Richardson hard. “Cut deep,” is how he said he felt on Twitter. He said in a later interview that Imani, who was a year older, took him under her wing when he joined the track team his freshman year.
Now a sophomore, Mantrez, 15, said she gave him pointers on hoisting the shot put. He’d known her since he was in sixth grade.
“One major thing about her was her spirit,” he said. She was a people person — funny, positive and spontaneous, he said. She was also a “workhorse level” student.
He said he was perusing social media Tuesday night when he spotted alarming posts. He connected on Twitter with the authors, and they told him what had happened. One described being on the scene, telling him Imani was doing basketball conditioning outside when she passed out. The girl told him Imani was revived briefly before the ride to the hospital.