By Sean Pendergast
By Sean Pendergast
By Sean Pendergast
By Jeff Balke
By Richard Connelly
By Jeff Balke
By Casey Michel
By Craig Hlavaty
The girl's body was slumped against the back of her bathroom door, a bedsheet knotted tightly around her neck. Instead of a warm, vibrant chocolate skin, hers was the grays and blues of impending death. Her stomach was distended, her eyes unfocused.
Joyce Robinson was the first one to spot her. The mental health technician began screaming, yelling for help, for someone to call 911. Cecilia's body fell before her; Robinson wrestled the sheet off and began CPR, with the help of other techs.
It was three days before Christmas, 1996, a little after 8 p.m., and 14-year-old Cecilia Garrett had gotten into a shouting match with other girls on her unit at the Devereux Treatment Center, a nonprofit mental health facility in League City. Told to sit by herself for a while until she calmed down, she stayed alone in a common room before deciding to go to her bedroom.
Heading down the hallway, past the nurses station, she slammed the door shut to her room and walked to her bed, where she ripped off a sheet. She knotted one end, tossed it over the top of her bathroom door, shut the door and tied the other end around her neck.
A few minutes later, Robinson entered the room to check on Cecilia and found her hanging.
Devereux personnel hustled about, sending the other girls to their rooms. An emergency medical service team and the League City police arrived. EMS came in without an oxygen tank. A Devereux employee was finally sent to bring it in off the ambulance. For a while Cecilia's color got better, closer to normal. Then it wasn't. Finally, they decided to take her to the hospital emergency room.
About an hour later, Cecilia Garrett was pronounced dead. She'd entered Devereux as a 12-year-old just two years before. She left on a gurney.
There was no obituary or news story about Cecilia in the Galveston County Daily News or the Houston Chronicle the next day or the days after. Her body was sent back to her parents in Chicago. It was like Cecilia Garrett had never been here. It was like she'd never been at all.
The Cecilia Garrett who arrived at the Devereux treatment facility in January 1995 was, by all accounts, a troubled child: aggressive, self-destructive and a victim. A friend of her father's allegedly raped her when she was nine years old. That was the same year her adoptive father moved out, and the same year Cecilia may have started using marijuana, although her parents deny that. Cecilia would cut herself on the arms and legs and had attempted suicide by slitting her wrists. A product of the South Chicago projects, Cecilia, who was big for her age, was more than the local public school system and her parents, Gladys and Victor, could handle. She was hospitalized at Hartgrove Hospital in Chicago -- she even got an extension to stay there longer while the school district looked for someplace else to put her -- but she was running out of time.
The Devereux treatment facility in League City, Texas, is 1,000 miles away from the South Side projects Cecilia called home. Devereux sends representatives to Chicago to tout its facilities, and the Chicago school system was interested. Hartgrove Hospital was a prime feeder to Devereux, said Ron Winkler, who was a Devereux intermediary signing up clients. Cecilia's treatment would be paid for with state money doled out through the Chicago schools. This was important because her parents didn't have much of anything, not even a telephone.
But still Cecilia's parents hesitated. She would be so far away. Gladys, who'd given birth to Cecilia on September 6, 1982, and Victor, who'd adopted her and her brother on September 27, 1988, didn't like it that they wouldn't be able to see their daughter regularly. Both were afraid to fly and, in any case, didn't have the money to travel back and forth. How would family counseling take place?
But something had to happen; something had to change. Cecilia had been to school only one day in all of 1994, according to Josie Winston, case manager with Chicago's alternative schools program. "She had been in the hospital, I believe, four times, psychiatrically hospitalized in 1994; and in 1993, I'm not sure what her attendance was, but I believe that she had been a chronic truant during 1993." She hadn't actually had too many special ed services from the schools, Winston said, because she was not there. "She's wandering the streets."
Victor and Gladys Garrett themselves had a lot of problems. Their home life was tumultuous, punctuated by Victor's drinking problems and his occasional physical abuse of Gladys. Cecilia later told counselors that he hit her as well, but her father denied that. He was taken to jail once for hitting his son after a teacher called to say the boy had been disobedient in class. Cecilia had a younger sister and an older brother, and as he got older the brother was frequently in trouble because of drugs. Victor Garrett said he moved out because of his wife's adultery and because the kids would tear up the apartments they were staying in until landlords didn't want them anymore, and he was tired of moving. He got a place nearby and would visit them in the mornings. Later in 1995, Victor Garrett would begin drawing social security disability after being diagnosed with depression.
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