Thousands of people gathered along the hills of a Burnsville cemetery Monday afternoon. In a clearing at the center, five young women lay wrapped in white cloth next to one another.
Congregants from the Dar Al Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington and the larger Twin Cities Muslim community had never seen anything like it—five young women between ages 17 and 20 killed in a single moment by a potentially impaired driver. Despite the grief, local Muslim community members came together quickly to organize a funeral three days after their deaths and raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for their families.
“The amount of people here praying for them is a good sign of the strength of our community coming together,” said Waleed Ashour, a teacher at Dar Al Farooq who knows the women’s families. “We’ve come together as a community to support our girls, our students, and their families.
The women—Sabiriin Ali, 17; Sahra Gesaade, 20; Salma Abdikadir, 20; Sagal Hersi, 19; and Siham Odhowa, 19—were described as “pillars” of their community.
A few hours after they were laid to rest, Minneapolis police revealed a key detail in the case—the driver who allegedly killed them is Derrick Thompson, 27, the son of former Minnesota Representative John Thompson. Derrick Thompson was arrested and booked into the Hennepin County jail Monday afternoon for probable cause murder, the department said.
Charges have not been filed, police said, but the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office is reviewing the case. In 2020, Derrick Thompson was sentenced in California to eight years in prison for causing a crash that badly injured a pedestrian.
John Thompson could not be reached for comment Monday.
Dar Al Farooq organized the Islamic funeral—known as a janazah for the young women. The friends, some of whom were related, had just gotten henna applied at Karmel Mall in preparation for a friend’s wedding moments before they were killed.
Minneapolis police said the women were killed when the vehicle they were in was struck by another car that ran a red light a little after 10 p.m. Friday. The crash occurred at Lake Street and 2nd Avenue.
Derrick Thompson fled the scene on foot but was arrested nearby and taken to Hennepin County Medical Center for evaluation. Police said he was bleeding, but did not elaborate further.
The women were described as “bright stars,” leaders in their academic and religious circles, and family-oriented community members.
“This [is] the right that the deceased have,” Khalid said of the funeral. “This is following our faith guidelines. We’re here to make sure that we successfully bury them in a very honorable way, in a way that brings community, and in a way to support the families.”
The mosque, which has close ties to the women, is also raising money to support their families. Donations are being accepted at LaunchGood.com/FiveMNSisters. The campaign raised more than $300,000 by late afternoon Monday.
Khalid told Sahan Journal Monday that the victims’ families were not commenting on the case.
“They’re having a hard time processing this,” he said. “They have questions, but all of that will happen after the burial and once they’ve fully processed.
Thousands turn out
The funeral began at Dar Al Farooq, where the gymnasium and multiple prayer spaces quickly filled up with people praying.
About 2 p.m., thousands gathered in a field outside of the mosque in 80-degree heat under a scorching sun to conduct the janazah prayer. Volunteers directed the crowd into haphazard rows.
“It had a really big impact on everybody,” volunteer Arayaan Shariff, 18, said of the women’s deaths. “We just want to help people feel comforted, make sure this is organized.”
Another volunteer, Jawahir Hussein, 18, felt inspired by the women to get involved, because they were also constantly helping out at Dar Al Farooq.
“When I heard that the sisters who were part of this community left us, I really felt like I had to come and help,” Jawahir said. “Looking around and seeing the emotions on everyone’s faces, seeing the dedication to come, it’s heartwarming.”
The janazah prayer is different from a typical Islamic prayer. There is no call to prayer announced, and the whole prayer is conducted while standing instead of kneeling.
As the janazah prayer began, a cool breeze abated the heat, and clouds shaded the field.
After the prayer, congregants were encouraged to attend the burial at the Garden of Eden cemetery in Burnsville. The mosque provided buses to transport people, which quickly filled up.
Cars crowded the streets surrounding Dar Al Farooq and on the roads approaching the cemetery located about 20 minutes away.
“I’m totally shocked,” Ashour said of the crowd. “I can’t believe that many people are here today.”
Questions about State Patrol role
Minneapolis police spokesman Adam Kennedy said a State Patrol trooper first saw Derrick Thompson speeding northbound on Interstate 35W Friday night and followed him from the 46th Street exit to the Lake Street exit, where Thompson left the interstate. The trooper could not get close enough to stop him.
The State Patrol said Thompson was traveling 95 miles an hour on the interstate in a 55-mile zone. Law enforcement officials are not calling the incident a pursuit because the trooper did not activate their lights or siren, Kennedy said. The distance between 46th Street and Lake Street is about two miles.
Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O’Hara has said that authorities believe Thompson was “impaired” at the time. The case remains under investigation.
Habon Abdulle, the executive director of Ayada Leads, a civic engagement group for women, raised concerns about the trooper’s actions that preceded the crash.
“This is not the first time something like this has happened—that a police chase was involved,” said Habon, who attended Monday’s funeral. “I hope law enforcement—Minneapolis police, Hennepin County Sheriff, the State Patrol—I hope they will come up with different ways to catch these people they’re trying to arrest.”
Hodan Hassan, 23, is a member of Dar Al Farooq. She echoed Habon’s concerns while paying her respects to the crash victims.
“They died because somebody else was reckless,” Hodan said. “But I hope that it doesn’t happen again in our community, and I hope that the person that did it gets the justice he deserves.”
About two dozen people gathered at 4:30 p.m. Monday outside the state Capitol to rally against law enforcement pursuits in response to the crash Friday.
Monique Cullars-Doty, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter Minnesota, said the gathering was organized at the last minute after the organization was given permission from the young women’s families to use pictures of them.
“They’re so young,” Cullars-Doty said. “Five in a car; they had to be cut out of the car. How does that make their family feel?”
Attendees at the Capitol spoke out against what they called unnecessary “chases” by law enforcement. They included the State Patrol trooper’s actions that preceded the Friday crash in that category. Speakers questioned law enforcement’s definition of “pursuit,” since the trooper had been following the suspect for a while before the crash.
Crash victims remembered
Sabiriin Ali recently graduated from Edina High School and was planning to attend the University of Minnesota in the fall, said Khalid. She was also a caretaker at Dar Al Farooq.
“One of the individuals recently graduated from high school about two or three weeks ago, and, we were celebrating her milestone and today, we’re here, faced with this reality of her death,” Khalid told Sahan Journal Saturday.
Sahra Gesaade was a 20 year-old student at the University of Minnesota Rochester.
Yusra Yusuf, 22, was Sahra’s resident advisor at the university. On the first day Yusra met her residents, Sahra’s dad asked Yusra to keep an eye out for his daughter. From that day forward, Yusra considered Sahra as a younger sister and gave her advice, from selecting classes to bigger questions about her future.
“Now, I feel like she taught me one last lesson—to never forget that life is short,” Yusra said.
Yusra described Sahra as someone who was committed to her faith and academics. She said Sahra was one of the first people in her family to attend college. Yusra is part of a group that is asking the university to honor Sahra with a posthumous degree since she only had a few semesters of college left to complete.
Salma Abdikadir was a second-year student at Normandale Community College and a teacher at the mosque.
“She was planning to teach this morning in her class,” Khalid said. “But now, we’re gonna come back to a class where that teacher will no longer be there permanently.”
Sagal Hersi was a student at Minneapolis Community and Technical College.
Siham Odhowa was a student at the University of Minnesota.
“The way we want people to remember these five individuals is that they had a lot of impact in our community,” Khalid said Monday. “They had bright futures. We want everybody to come and support them today and in the next few days.”
*CORRECTION: This story has been updated with the correct name for Siham Odhowa.