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Family blames DJJ after teen dies in custody

120 treated after 14-year-old Andre Sheffield died last week of meningitis

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Loved ones say they are heartbroken after a 14-year-old Arlington boy died last week from bacterial meningitis while in the custody of the Department of Juvenile Justice.

Andre Sheffield had been staying at the Brevard Juvenile Detention Center in South Florida since April 2014.

Andre had attended Arlington Middle School and his relatives said he was a funny and smart kid. They said Andre had been in DJJ custody because he violated his probation when he broke into a home, and they blame the DJJ for Andre's death.

Berlena Sheffield, Andre's grandmother and legal guardian, said he had been complaining about head and stomach pains for weeks. She said he was only given Tylenol.

"If it was their child, they would have done more. If their child said their stomach hurt, they would have done more," said Tamika Sheffield, Andre's sister. "We're just trying to keep each other strong. That's the only thing we can do. That's what he would want, us to be strong."

Family members said Andre (pictured) was rushed to a local hospital last Thursday after complaining of more pain. He died there.

Andre Sheffield
Andre Sheffield

"I flipped out. I flipped out, because it shouldn't have happened," Berlena Sheffield said. "If they had caught that in time, he would be alive now. He wouldn't be dead."

The Department of Juvenile Justice released a statement last week about the death, saying in part:

"Initial details surrounding this tragedy are still being investigated.  Local law enforcement is on premises and conducting an investigation. The Florida DJJ is also conducting an immediate intensive review of actions taken by the department and contracted personnel to ensure all policies and procedures were followed. Currently, DJJ is employing the Employee Assistance Program and Mental Health Counselors to assist staff and the children with the tragedy."

Those who loved Andre most said they will always remember him.

"He sent me a message in my sleep and said, 'I am living through you,' so I'm not going to forget him ever," Tamika Sheffield said.

Health officials have treated 120 potentially exposed children and staff for meningococcal disease after Andre died last week.

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The Florida Department of Health in Brevard County confirmed last week that Andre died from meningitis at the detention center in Cocoa.

"We are working closely with officials at the Brevard Juvenile Detention Center to determine all close contacts of this child and provide preventive medication to those who may be impacted," Dr. Heidar Heshmati, director of Brevard's Department of Health, said in a news release.

Officials said that as of Feb. 21, preventive medication had been provided to 120 children and staff who were potentially exposed to the bacteria.

The disease is caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis, which can spread through person-to-person contact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Densely populated living spaces are particularly prone to its spread.

Meningococcal disease is the leading cause of bacterial meningitis in children aged 2 to 18, according to the CDC. It can be treated with antibiotics.

Andre's relatives say they are considering legal action. They said they want the DJJ to pay for Andre's funeral. For now, though, they have set up a gofundme account to help raise the money to cover the funeral costs. You can donate at http://www.gofundme.com/n06phs