As he stood near the playground in front of the large crowd on Friday, Gov. Mark Dayton grappled with finding the right words to comfort the students of Peter Hobart Elementary School who were mourning the deaths of two of their own.
“I wish I could say something that would make you feel better,” Dayton told the audience of children, teachers and parents. “I wish I could say something that could explain to you why this terrible thing happened. I can’t.”
To get more answers as to what caused a landslide at Lilydale Regional Park earlier this week that killed and injured students on a fossil-hunting field trip, the city of St. Paul said Friday that it hired a civil engineering firm with geotechnical expertise to examine the site.
The city chose Northern Technologies Inc., which has offices in Minnesota and North Dakota. The company expects to provide information on the landslide to the city within the next several weeks.
“With particular expertise in the evaluation of collapses and natural disasters, we expect their work to provide us with a better comprehension of what caused this tragic accident,” said Mike Hahm, director of St. Paul Parks and Recreation, in a statement.
Mohamed Fofana, 10, and Haysem Sani, 9, were killed in the landslide at the St. Paul park on the bluffs of the Mississippi River while they were on a trip with their fourth-grade class on Wednesday. Their funerals were Friday.
Two other students, identified by the school as Lucas Lee and Devon Meldahl, were injured. Devon was admitted to the Level I Pediatric Trauma Center at Regions Hospital and Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare. He was listed Friday in fair condition. Lucas was released from the hospital earlier this week.
Following the landslide, the city closed access to the fossil grounds, a popular school field trip destination, until further notice.
Before class started on Friday morning, students huddled around a memorial of flowers, teddy bears and balloons at the front of the school.
“It’s just really sad,” said parent Rajni Mishra, after he dropped off his first-grade daughter. She had a friend who was on the field trip who wasn’t hurt, he said.
While Mishra said he knows the incident was an accident, more precautions should be taken to protect students. “We cannot stop children from going out on field trips.”
Dayton shared similar sentiments when he spoke in front of an assembly of students and encouraged them to carry on.
“It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t go about living your lives,” he said.
Dayton said a friend of his had died in a similar accident years ago during a rockslide while hiking in a California canyon. “I remember the horror I felt. I remember the shock,” Dayton said.
Despite what happened this week, the governor told the students that they should feel safe.
Parent Stephanie Larson, who attended the event, said she was supposed to help chaperon a class trip with her son to the fossil dig site the day after the landslide occurred. “That could have been us,” she said.
Larson said she believed that school staff, who she described as being very safety conscious, couldn’t have done anything to prevent what happened.
“We can’t be afraid,” she said. “This world is dangerous and beautiful.”
A fund for the students and families affected by the landslide has been set up at Citizens Independent Bank in St. Louis Park.