Hour after hour, Christina Eilman threw herself at the bars of her cell at a South Side police lockup, shrieking threats one moment and begging for help the next, pleading that she was ill.
Even the women in adjoining cells, many who were used to the chaos of lockup, were alarmed at Eilman's unremitting distress. Many of them joined in, calling out to guards on Eilman's behalf.
A woman in a nearby cell recalled the response of police officers: "Shut up."
In California, Eilman's mother was begging for help too, calling Chicago police a dozen times through the night and the following day. How could she rescue her 21-year-old daughter, who suffered from bipolar disorder, was stranded in an unfamiliar city and had been arrested after a disturbance at the airport?
Time after time, she says, police told her to call back later.
The last time Kathy Paine called on May 8, police floored her with unexpected news: Eilman had been released, walking alone out the front door of the station at 51st Street and Wentworth Avenue, into one of Chicago's highest-crime neighborhoods.
Three hours later, Eilman plummeted from a seventh-floor window of a nearby public housing high-rise, wearing only underwear--a shock that has raised troubling questions within the Chicago Police Department about whether officers' actions led a vulnerable woman to disaster.
A gang member is awaiting trial on charges that he abducted and raped her, but whether Eilman fell, jumped or was pushed remains a mystery.
To the amazement of those who found her crushed body, she survived. But she will never fully recover from the damage to her body and brain, her doctor said.
Through interviews with three women who were locked up with Eilman, and with Eilman's parents, the Tribune has pieced together a more complete picture of the agonizing hours leading to Eilman's fall and the ordeal that continues for her family.
It is the first time eyewitnesses have spoken publicly about what went on during Eilman's time in police custody, and their stories are remarkably consistent--she continuously cried out for help, sometimes hysterically, and police repeatedly rebuffed her.
Attempting to settle lawsuit
More than four months after the fall, the Chicago Police Department is expected to soon conclude an internal investigation of officer conduct during the 29 hours Eilman was in custody. Meanwhile, city lawyers are quietly trying to settle the $100 million lawsuit Rick and Kathy Paine filed on their daughter's behalf, a potentially massive payout facing taxpayers.
But the suburban Sacramento couple's attention and energy is focused on the helpless woman, now withered to the size of a thin child, who lies flat on a bed in the brain-injury unit of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.
Eilman, once an athletic, vivacious student at the University of California-Los Angeles, now suffers through daily pain and confusion. She lives in a sort of twilight of consciousness, able to make only the most rudimentary responses, enduring frustrating therapies she can hardly comprehend.
She makes eye contact, but fleetingly. Some days she speaks a few words and appears dreamy, almost contented. Other days she writhes and moans as the pain from her injuries continues to ravage her body.
Her parents' expectations for improvement are modest.
"We hope that she'll be able to feed herself, and maybe go to the bathroom," Rick Paine said.