Over $10M awarded to family of Ugandan activist decapitated at U.S. national park

Francis Akhalbey January 31, 2023
Esther "Essie" Nakajjigo's family has been awarded over $10 million -- Photo Credit: Athea Trial Lawyers/The Salt Lake Tribune

The family of a Ugandan human rights activist who was decapitated during a visit to Utah’s Arches National Park will receive more than $10 million after they filed a lawsuit in the wake of her death. 

According to PEOPLE, the verdict comes after Esther “Essie” Nakajjigo’s husband and parents filed a $270 million lawsuit against the National Park Service after she died. The fatal incident occurred in 2020, and the administrative claim was filed the next year.

Per the details of the verdict, $9.5 million will go to Nakajjigo’s husband Ludovic Michaud. The federal judge also awarded $700,000 to Nakajjigo’s mother and $350,000 to her father. A lead attorney on the case, Zoe Littlepage, said “this is the largest verdict from a federal judge in Utah history,” The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

Nakajjigo was with her husband when she died on June 13, 2020. The couple had gone to Utah’s Arches National Park to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the first time they met, The Associated Press reported. But as the couple was driving out of the location, a strong wind blew the park’s entrance gate into their rental car, cutting through it “like a hot knife through butter.” Nakajjigo, who was in the car’s passenger seat, was decapitated as a result. 

Following the verdict, Littlepage also stated that “on behalf of the family, we are very appreciative of the judge’s attention to detail, the time he spent working on this, and for the value he put on the loss to this family of Essie.”

U.S. Attorney for the District of Utah Trina Higgins also told The Salt Lake Tribune that the deceased activist’s family deserved the money. “The United States was 100 percent at fault. … And we want to express on behalf of the United States our profound sorrow for your loss,” an attorney representing the U.S. government said during the trial. 

“We respect the judge’s decision and hope this award will help her loved ones as they continue to heal for this tragedy,” the statement said. “On behalf of the United States, we again extend our condolences to Ms. Nakajjigo’s friends, family and beloved community.”

In a statement to PEOPLE, Littlepage described Nakajjigo as “a remarkable humanitarian and champion for women and girls.” “This verdict, though the largest by a federal judge in Utah history, cannot replace the immeasurable loss suffered by her husband and family,” the attorney added.

Nakajjigo was a women and girls’ ambassador in her native Uganda. When she was 17, she opened a health center where Ugandan adolescents could receive free health services. She had been running the facility before her death. 

The deceased activist also created two reality shows that sought to provide empowerment to young mothers and also urge girls to remain in school, PEOPLE reported. 

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: February 1, 2023


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