School, students cope with tragic loss

A memorial is put up at Peter Hobart Elementary School in St Louis Park, Minn., for the two fourth-grade students who died in a mudslide May 22, 2013 at Lilydale Regional Park in St. Paul.
MPR Photo/Tim Post

It was a tough day for students and teachers at St. Louis Park's Peter Hobart Elementary, administrators say.

The school's flag flies at half-staff. A memorial has taken root along a fence near the school's entrance. It holds a collection of stuffed animals, cards and balloons, visible signs that the school community is in mourning.

On Wednesday, two of the school's 4th-grade students died in a landslide during a field trip to a popular fossil-hunting spot in St. Paul. Two other students were injured. Two of the school's fourth-grade classes, almost 50 students, attended the field trip to Lilydale Regional Park in St. Paul. Counselors were on hand Thursday to talk with students about the tragedy.

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Outside the school, principal Shelley Nielson told reporters that counselors spent the day speaking with students.

"I think you see a whole range of emotions," Nielson said. "For many of our students this is may be the first time that they've dealt with a tragedy of this magnitude, losing a classmate or losing anyone at all in their life."

Police officials identified one of the students who died as Haysem Sani, 9. The other victim has been identified by his family as Mohamed Fofana, 10.

Mohamed Fofana
Mohamed Fofana was one of two fourth-graders killed in the landslide at Lilydale Regional Park in St. Paul, Minn. Wednesday, May 22, 2013.
Courtesy of Fofana family

"They're outstanding students. Love of life. Love learning. Very engaged families, very supportive of our school and our community," Nielson said, speaking fondly of the students and their families.

Fofana's older brother Gmh Kanneh said what happened to his little brother still hasn't sunk in. He said it's hard to believe that just a few days ago he was playing soccer with his little brother.

"He was a nice kid. I just want people to keep in mind that he's the best kid that I ever been around. He was sweet. All the kids that were there, I feel for them," Kanneh said. "I miss my brother. It's tragic."

A fund for the students and families impacted by this tragedy has been established at Citizens Independent Bank, St. Louis Park.

Donations can be sent to:

Peter Hobart Student Fund
c/o Citizen's Independent Bank
5000 West 36th Street
St. Louis Park, MN 55416