Friends and family of Imani Bell gathered for a candlelight vigil Wedneday, Aug. 21, 2019, at Dixon Grove Baptist Church in Jonesboro. The 16-year-old Clayton student died during outdoor athletic drills for Elite Scholars Academy. (Elijah Nouvelage for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Photo: Elijah Nouvelage
Photo: Elijah Nouvelage

Friends, family remember Clayton student who died after drills in heat

Friends and family of Imani Bell — wearing shades of purple, her favorite color — remembered the Elite Scholars Academy student during a candlelight vigil Wednesday as a kind spirit who held her teammates together.

The 16-year-old, they said, was brilliant, passionate and loving. She had her sights on going to Stanford University, her mother said, but had not yet decided what she wanted to study.

“She was still exploring,” Dorian Bell said. “Really, everything she did she was good at. She did some coding during summer programs. She talked about aerospace dynamics. At one time she wanted to be a lawyer, so she was still finding her way. “

More than 200 people turned out for the vigil at Dixon Grove Baptist Church in Jonesboro. With purple and white balloons surrounding a picture of the teen, they listened as friends, leaders and church officials talked, smiled with joy about the person Bell was, and shed tears softly for the loss of her life.

Willow Bell, 10, cries at the candlelight vigil for her sister, Imani Bell Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019, at Dixon Grove Baptist Church in Jonesboro. The 16-year-old Clayton student died during outdoor athletic drills for Elite Scholars Academy. (Elijah Nouvelage for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Photo: Elijah Nouvelage

“We are here to pray for this family,” said Dixon pastor Rev. James Harris. “We have to pray that these things don’t occur anymore.”

Bell, a basketball player at the Clayton County School, died Aug. 13 after participating in outdoor athletic drills in extreme heat. According to her family, she had complained to a coach about feeling ill during the exercise. She was told to run up stairs instead of continuing the drills.

She later collapsed and died. Funeral services are set for 11 a.m. Saturday at Hillside Chapel and Truth Center, 2450 Cascade Road, S.W. in Atlanta.

Justin Miller, an attorney and spokesman for the family, said Wednesday that Bell’s family may sue to get answers. It has been nine days since her death and they know very little about the circumstances surrounding her demise, he said.

“All options are on the table,” Miller, who also is a cousin of Bell’s, said of possible litigation. “We are thinking about it. We need more facts.”

The family says the school district has not been forthcoming on why students were doing conditioning drills on a day when temperatures were in the high 90s and above. They also want to know more about the coaching staff that was in charge that day and the county’s policies on exercising in extreme conditions.

Friends and family of Imani Bell gathered for a candlelight vigil Wedneday, Aug. 21, 2019, at Dixon Grove Baptist Church in Jonesboro. The 16-year-old Clayton student died during outdoor athletic drills for Elite Scholars Academy. (Elijah Nouvelage for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Photo: Elijah Nouvelage

A spokesman for Clayton Schools declined on Wednesday to discuss the matter, referring back to a press release from last week in which the district said it would make no statements out of respect for the family.

Her friends and fellow teammates remembered that she was the one who picked them up whenever games were not going well.

“She always had a smile on her face,” teammate McKenzie Floyd said. “She kept the team encouraged a lot, even during the rough games.”

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