Last week, Georgia Bell promised her 16-year-old grandson that she would visit him in the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center on Saturday.
But just as the 62-year-old Gresham woman was preparing to leave her home, where Terry Bell Jr. had lived since he was 3, she learned from authorities at the detention center that he had collapsed and died after playing basketball.
"I made it too late," Bell said Sunday, explaining that her grandson had high blood pressure. "They knew he was not well. Why would they let him go out and play basketball?"
During the game, Bell got into a heated argument with another person and collapsed as he was being led away, according to the Cook County medical examiner's office.
The teen had a "medical event" about 3 p.m. Saturday, county Chief Legal Counsel Teresa Abreu said. He was taken to Stroger Hospital by ambulance and was pronounced dead about 4:05 p.m., officials said.
Bell said she fears her grandson may not have received needed medical attention at the detention center, where critics say children are confined in crowded and sometimes violent conditions.
County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has called for the center to be closed in favor of group homes and other juvenile programs that place more emphasis on reform.
"Our goal frankly is to empty out the juvenile detention center," Preckwinkle said Sunday, reiterating her argument that it is not the solution for most juvenile offenders.
Located on the Near West Side at 1100 S. Hamilton Ave., the center houses youths ages 10 to 16 with cases pending in the Juvenile Division of Cook County Courts. Charged with burglary, Terry Bell Jr. had been awaiting trial for months at the center, his grandmother said.
"I guess a jail is a jail," she said. "I believe it frightened that child so much."
An autopsy on Bell was inconclusive, and officials are requiring further tests to determine his cause of death, a spokesman said.
Tribune reporter Carlos Sadovi contributed