Families of Lilydale landslide victims plan school, orphanage in Africa

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The Star Tribune reports the families of two fourth-graders killed in a landslide at Lilydale Regional Park last year plan to use settlement money to build a school and orphanage in the African countries from which their parents immigrated.

Attorneys for the families of Mohamed Fofana, 10, and Haysem Sani, 9, tell the newspaper the boys had visited the Republic of Guinea and Ethiopia, respectively, and were struck by the poverty they saw there.

The boys were students at St. Louis Park's Peter Hobart Elementary School and were on a class trip hunting for fossils at the park in St. Paul when the side of a bluff gave way under their feet, burying the children in mud.

Although they did not admit liability, both the city of St. Paul and the St. Louis Park school district reached financial settlements with the families of Fofana and Sani and of a third boy, Devin Meldahl, who was injured in the landslide. The St. Paul settlement reached in March was for $1 million; the school district agreed earlier this month to pay $200,000.

The attorney for the Fofanas tells the Star Tribune the family will use almost all of Mohamed's settlement money for the school in Guinea, adding “It’s meant to be in his honor and to keep his memory alive.”

The lawyer for Sani's mother and stepfather tells the paper they plan to fund an Ethiopian orphanage because when Haysem visited his parents' homeland he was struck by the number of young children living on the streets.

Meldahl's family, the Star Tribune reports, plans to use the settlement money to cover ongoing medical expenses stemming from the fractured skull and brain injuries he suffered.

Parents of some of the schoolchildren said warnings of potentially unsafe conditions at the park were not passed on to them.

Two independent investigations found the landslide could not have been predicted or prevented.

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