DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — It’s been several days since Arabia Mountain High School 17-year-old Elyse Purefoy died suddenly at dance practice Monday morning.
Her family told 11Alive that doctors told them dehydration was a factor. But in an update, a graduate of the high school and former member of the team said she and her mother raised the alarm over allegations of concerning behavior by the team years ago.
The mother and daughter did not want to show their identities but felt they needed to share their concerns after learning about Purefoy’s death.
“I never wanted someone to have to die from just wanting to be able to dance and wanting to be part of a team,” the former dance team member said.
11Alive’s La’Tasha Givens spoke to the alumna and her mother, who said they didn’t feel like their concerns were taken seriously. Now, they’re urging the school to look into what they are calling a culture of hazing.
“There were times when you would literally be panting for water,” the graduate claimed.
While the medical examiner has not released an official cause of death, the Purefoy family told 11Alive, doctors told them dehydration and an unknown heart condition were likely factors.
But the dancer described what she said was an unsafe hazing type of culture, one where she said dancers had to earn the right to drink water during practice.
“There have been times when we would literally give it our all, and they would feel like it wasn't enough and say that we couldn't get water and we wouldn't be able to get water until after we had ran all those laps and do a dance routine,” she said.
She said the alleged behavior happened under a different coach, but it was brushed off as conditioning.
“She told me how the coach would pour water in a little bottle cap and each one of them, they would have to take a sip, and I just thought, ‘Who on earth would do something like that’,” the alumna’s mother said.
The mother shared emails with 11Alive she said she sent to school administrators about a host of concerns she had about the dance team. She claimed those concerns fell on deaf ears. The mother and former student said their thoughts and prayers are now with the Purefoy family.
“I couldn't imagine my mom or my grandmother losing me for being a part of a team I always wanted to be a part of,” the former dance team member said.
“I am so sorry," her mother added. "Their daughter lost her life doing what she loved.”
11Alive asked the Purefoy family Thursday for comment. They said they were in the process of planning Elyse's funeral.
11Alive reached out to the DeKalb County School District, school officials said they were working with the appropriate departments to gather facts surrounding the Purefoy's death.