UPDATE: A funeral for the five friends was held Monday at the Dar Al Farooq Islamic Center. The young women were buried afterward at the Garden of Eden Islamic Cemetery in Burnsville.
Five young women had just finished getting henna applied Friday for a friend’s wedding on Saturday when they were struck and killed by a driver in Minneapolis, said a local Muslim leader familiar with the victims.
Khalid Omar, director of Dar Al Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington, identified the victims as Sabiriin Ali, Sahra Gesaade, Salma Abdikadir, Sagal Hersi, and *Siham Odhowa. The young women were close-knit friends of college age.
“You have mothers who, 15 minutes before this accident took place, were talking to their daughters. And now this morning they had to wake up, and be here without their daughters,” Khalid said. “And so there’s a lot of grievance that a lot of people are grieving. A lot of people are very emotional and looking for hope, and everybody’s coming back to their faith traditions.”
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.
The male suspect, whose identity has not been released, fled the scene on foot but was arrested nearby and taken to Hennepin County Medical Center for evaluation, police said.
“This is an incredibly tragic and horrific scene,” Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O’Hara said at the scene Friday night.
The chief described the suspect’s actions as “absolutely reckless,” and said authorities believe he was “impaired.” Police did not elaborate on what the potential impairment could involve.
Minneapolis police spokesman Adam Kennedy said a State Patrol trooper first saw the suspect driver speeding northbound on Interstate 35W and followed him from the 46th Street exit to the Lake Street exit, where the suspect left the interstate. The trooper could not get close enough to stop the driver.
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.
Khalid described the young women as “pillars” of their community. Police said the victims were four adult females and a juvenile female.
“We find ourselves in deep sorrow today, for our community experienced a heartbreaking tragedy last night,” Dar Al Farooq posted on its Facebook page early Saturday morning. “We have lost five of our bright, young sisters in a severe car accident. May Allah grant mercy upon the departed and open the doors of Jannah for them.
“These young Muslim sisters, [sic] were shining stars of hope for our future. Unfortunately, their lives were cut short last night by a driver evading the police.”
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 said.
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.
Khalid told Sahan Journal the community expects to hold a funeral for the young women Sunday or Monday at the latest.
Khalid said the five girls were always together, and had bright futures ahead of them.
“It’s hard to grieve one individual, but now we’re grieving for five individuals that passed away,” he said.
More than a hundred people of all ages gathered in the gym of Dar Al Farooq Saturday afternoon to listen to speakers talk about death and grief. Young women sat with their arms around each other, hugging their friends as more people filed in. A few left the gym in tears throughout the session.
“They were jewels of the crown of this community,” Imam Asad Zaman of the Muslim American Society said of the young women who died.
Audience members took turns sharing their feelings during a session on grieving. They expressed anger and confusion, but also shared memories about the young women who were heavily active at the mosque, which is raising money for the women’s families.
“We have set up a LaunchGood campaign to raise funds to support the grieving families. This tragedy has left a void in many lives,” said a post on the mosque’s Facebook page. “Your generous donation, no matter how small, can help ease the burden on the affected families. Your contributions will be used to cover.”
Donations are being accepted at LaunchGood.com/FiveMNSisters.
State Patrol response
The Minnesota State Patrol, Minneapolis police, Hennepin County EMS, Metro Transit police, and the Minneapolis Fire Department responded to the crash.
“This is an immense tragedy,” said Minneapolis police spokesman Adam Kennedy, who responded to the scene. “To have that many agencies responding speaks to the level of the crash.”
The State Patrol trooper who first spotted the suspect driver was the first law enforcement officer to arrive at the crash scene, he said.
“It was not a pursuit that led to this,” Kennedy said. “The trooper was not able to get within a distance to initiate a traffic stop. It all happened really quickly.”
Howie Padilla, director of communications for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, which oversees the State Patrol, deferred most questions about the crash to Minneapolis police.
“Minneapolis [police] is the lead investigating agency, so they have the most updated information,” Padilla said. “What I have seen and heard from lead investigating agency appears to be accurate.”
Padilla said the suspect was “traveling in excess of 95 miles per hour” in a 55-mile zone. Padilla did not say how fast the state trooper was driving when he began to follow the suspect, adding that that detail is likely part of the ongoing investigation.
In a model policy for police pursuits published on the Department of Public Safety website, the state defines a pursuit as, “A multi-stage process by which a peace officer initiates a vehicular stop and a driver resists the signal or order to stop, increases speed, takes evasive action and/or refuses to stop the vehicle. Once the driver refuses to obey the peace officer’s signal or order, this pursuit policy and procedure will determine the officer’s and agency’s actions.”
According to the document, a pursuit terminates when the suspect’s vehicle stops, or when the officer turns off the emergency equipment, resumes routine vehicle operation, and informs dispatch.
*CORRECTION: This story has been updated with the correct name for Siham Odhowa.
Sahan Journal Managing Editor Chao Xiong contributed to this report.