ST. LOUIS PARK, Minn. (WCCO) — A St. Louis Park family is looking for answers after their son died in an accident at school.
Authorities said Abdullahi Charif, 12, was found Thursday morning at the bottom of the pool after gym class at St. Louis Park Middle School. He died over the weekend and was laid to rest on Sunday.
The family of the boy tells WCCO-TV they have mixed emotions as they attempt to sort out the tragedy that unfolded last week. From the deepest sadness to anger, the family is hoping to get more answers Monday as they meet with officials investigating what happened.
Authorities say while other children were already in the locker room, a teacher discovered the boy in the deep end of the pool and performed CPR. Abdullahi lost his battle over the weekend, leaving his family devastated this could happen while their child was at school.
Abdullahi leaves behind his parents and his 18-year-old sister, Kahadija Charif.
“He was so, so amazing, I will miss him. He’s my other half,” Charif said. “I love him, love him, and I will never, ever forget his smile, his beautiful face and his energetic soul.”
She says her brother, who was 6 foot 2 inches tall, seemed beyond his years in more ways than one.
“He’s a very tall kid. He’s taller than me and he’s only 12 years old,” she said. “I was important to him and he made me understand that, he emphasized my existence.”
His family made T-shirts with his photo, and a message that reads “#Justice For Abdullahi.” His father, Ali Warsame, says his son who wanted to be a basketball player and engineer.
“Very active, very handsome,” Warsame said. “I miss him tonight.”
His aunt, Asha Ahmed, says Abdullahi’s death seems unreal.
“You would never think such a thing would happen until it happens to you,” Ahmed said.
Fred Pritzker, the attorney for Abdullahi’s family, says he didn’t know how to swim, and the teacher was not certified as a lifeguard – something he finds unacceptable for a class with 30 students.
WCCO checked with the Minnesota Department of Education and there are no guidelines or regulations governing swim classes at the 85 pools that are located in Minnesota public schools.
In a statement, Pritzker criticized the school for failing to provide the family with details of what happened.
“This lack of information only compounds the family’s grief and mistrust,” Pritzker said. “Common sense would suggest you do not have kids who have no swimming abilities and don’t know how to swim in a situation where they can get into deep water or into trouble. A long time went by before his body was found, so why did that happen?”
John Foss, founder of Foss Swim Schools, says his company has taught more than 100,000 Twin Cities’ students to swim over the past twenty years.
He says he would never attempt the 30-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio that was in place at St. Louis Park Middle School.
“When you start talking about kids who can’t swim, you can’t put those together,” Foss said.
The death of the 12-year-old has prompted outrage on social media with community members demanding to know what happened.
Mohamud Noor is a Somali community leader who has been with the family through this struggle. He says this is a case that has left the whole community, not just one family, wanting answers.
“Our mission is to make sure there’s justice for this young man who lost his life in terms of what really happened. That’s priority No. 1,” Noor said. “That’s our priority so that we can stand with the family. Secondly, is to support this family going through this major loss in their lives.”
Somali community leader Omar Jamal released a statement about the tragedy on Monday.
“This is very difficult time for Abdullahi Ali’s family and the community at large. I am asking thorough investigation on this matter, and will reach out [to] St Louis school district over this matter,” Jamal said. “Let us all come together as a family and keep in our thoughts and prayers for Abdullahi Ali[‘s] untimely death.”
St. Louis Park Police say Monday they’re not able to share any new developments in the case. Police are interviewing children in the class as part of the investigation.
Authorities say it’s still unclear exactly what happened that day and that this is extremely rare to happen in a school. But Noor says the Somali community is hoping to work on creating more opportunities to teach young children how to swim.
St. Louis Park Schools Superintendent Rob Metz released the following statement on Monday:
“The St. Louis Park Public Schools, and the entire community, continue to mourn the passing of seventh grader Abdullahi Charif. Counselors remain on site for students, faculty and staff, and the health and safety of our students continues to be a top priority for all of us at St. Louis Park Public Schools.
In addition to the police investigation underway, we are conducting a full internal investigation into the circumstances surrounding this tragedy. As part of this investigation, the teacher on duty during the time of the incident will remain on paid administrative leave, and the Middle School pool will remain closed during the investigation.
Staff from St. Louis Park Public Schools has been in contact with the family since the incident occurred. On Thursday, staff met with a family member at the hospital and remained there until the family requested that all school staff and officials leave.
At that time, the family also indicated that they did not want the District to release any information about the student. The District has respected these wishes, but continued to reach out to the family both in person and over the phone in the days following the incident, including a meeting with a family representative on Sunday evening. The School District and the greater St. Louis Park community continue to look for ways to support this family now and in the future.”
Pritzker wants anyone with information about the circumstances of Abdullahi’s death to call his office at 612-338-0202.
The school district has created a fund for Abdullahi Charif’s family at Citizens Independent Bank. Donations can also be sent to this address:
Middle School Student Fund
c/o Citizens Independent Bank
5000 W. 36th St.
St. Louis Park, MN 55416