The friends and families of five young women killed by a speeding driver in Minneapolis more than a week ago are calling for an independent investigation into the causes of the crash.
The families of victims Sabiriin Ali, 17; Sahra Gesaade, 20; Salma Abdikadir, 20; Sagal Hersi, 19; and Siham Odhowa, 19; spoke out publicly for the first time Monday afternoon with support from the Minnesota Chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (MN-CAIR).
Jaylani Hussein, MN-CAIR’s executive director, said the families have received conflicting information from authorities about the fatal collision on June 16 and the involvement of a State Patrol trooper who followed the speeding driver to the crash at Lake Street and 2nd Avenue. He called for an outside investigation into the matter.
“We want to make sure we prevent a tragedy like this from ever happening in the state of Minnesota, or anywhere else,” Jaylani said, “and hold accountability to anyone directly and indirectly involved in this incident.”
Several family and friends spoke emotionally about the young women, calling them pillars of their community whose lives ended far too soon.
Sabiriin Ali’s older sister, Sundus Mohamoud Ali, described her as someone who “brought sunshine on even the cloudiest days to all of your family and friends.” Sabiriin, she said, was on her way to becoming a physician’s assistant.
“The pain of your absence is a reminder of how precious our time was together,” she said.
Prosecutors charged Derrick Thompson last week in state court with 10 counts of criminal vehicular homicide and in federal court with possession of a firearm as a felon, possession of fentanyl, and carrying a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime.
Thompson, 27, of Brooklyn Park is currently in custody. Prosecutors said a semi-automatic handgun and more than 2,000 fentanyl pills, among other drugs, were found in the car he was driving when he killed the women.
Court documents and Minneapolis police have said a State Patrol trooper first spotted Thompson driving 95 miles an hour in a 55-mile zone northbound on Interstate 35W. The trooper followed him from the 46th Street exit to the Lake Street exit—about two miles—but did not activate his lights or siren because he could not get close enough to pull Thompson over.
Thompson exited the interstate at Lake Street, where his SUV ran a redlight at high speed and broadsided the women’s Honda Civic. The close-knit friends had just had henna applied for a friend’s wedding the next day; they were pronounced dead at the scene.
Police have said the trooper was not in official pursuit of Thompson because he did not turn get close enough to turn on his siren or lights. Jaylani said those statements warrant investigation and explanation.
Jaylani also called for a ban on high-speed police chases, saying they disproportionately hurt communities of color.
“We ask for the state, in lieu of these chases, to look at innovative alternative responses that could be used by law enforcement that avoid risking the lives of individuals,” he said.
The Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, the union that represents state troopers and other statewide law enforcement officials, criticized CAIR-MN’s remarks about the state trooper in a prepared statement the morning after the news conference. Imran Ali, the union’s general counsel, emphasized Thompson’s status as a ” violent repeat criminal” and stated “we demand justice and accountable [sic] for his actions of over 95 mph speeding, when his car crashed into the five victims, fleeing the scene, lying to police, carrying a gun, narcotics, and more.”
“It’s disingenuous for CAIR and other groups to diminish Thompson’s actions by seeking to blame others rather than Thompson himself,” Ali said in the statement. “Police did not initiate a chase and cannot be said—in any way—to be responsible for Thompson’s actions.”
The state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension typically investigates when officers are involved in civilian deaths. (Minneapolis police are leading the investigation into the June 16 crash.) But Jaylani called for the state to appoint an outsider “who has experience investigating incidents” to conduct such probes.
“Based on the history of law enforcement investigating law enforcement, that’s not usually the best way of addressing any situation,” he said.
Family and friends honor the victims
Family members took turns Monday speaking about each victim, describing them as selfless and academically ambitious.
Siham Odhowa’s sister, Sundus Adan Odhowa, described her as a promising young woman who was pursuing a computer science degree at the University of Minnesota.
“While many knew her as a reserved, quiet individual, to me she was the funniest person I knew,” Sundus Odhowa said.
Sagal Hersi’s cousin, Abdulkani Odhowa, said that Sabiriin, Siham, and Segal were inseparable, “sharing a bond that transcended friendship,” and each “brought immeasurable joy to the people around them.”
Abdulkani remembered his cousin, who was attending Minneapolis Community and Technical College, as a “remarkable young woman known for her kindness and infectious laughter.”
Sahra Gesaade’s younger sister, Rukia Gesaade, described her sister as often immersed in medical textbooks and “always wanting to give back and help people in need.” Sahra was studying health sciences at the University of Minnesota Rochester and planned to become an orthopedic surgeon.
Yusra Ali, a close friend of Salma Abdikadir, recalled how Salma “put family first and always made sure her younger siblings were taken care of.” She often woke up early in the morning to get them ready for their day.
Salma was pursuing a psychology degree from St. Paul College.
Abdulahi Farah, a board member of Dar Al Farooq Islamic Center, the Bloomington mosque the five women attended and volunteered at, thanked the community for its support over the past week, and noted that the women’s funeral was the largest public funeral in the Minnesota Muslim community’s history. Several thousand mourners attended the funeral last Monday.
The mosque is raising money for the women’s families at LaunchGood.com/FiveMNSisters.
“Moving forward, it is our collective responsibility to honor their lives by advocating for justice for them,” Abdulahi said, “and to ensure that their legacy is always remembered.”