Family of Newlywed and Activist Decapitated at Utah's Arches National Park Awarded More Than $10M
A federal judge awarded more than $10 million to the family of a Ugandan human rights activist who was decapitated while on a visit to Arches National Park in 2020.
Esther "Essie" Nakajjigo's husband Ludovic Michaud will receive $9.5 million while her mother Christine Namagembe will receive $700,000, according to the judgment filed in federal court. Essie's father John Bocso Kateregga will receive $350,000.
Nakajjigo's husband and parents filed a $270 million administrative claim against the National Park Service in 2021 over her death.
Nakajjigo and Michaud spent June 13, 2020, at Arches National Park in Utah as a way to celebrate their one-year anniversary of when they first met, according to the Associated Press.
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The newlyweds were on their drive out with Nakajjigo in the passenger seat when a strong wind pushed the park's entrance gate into the road, and sliced through their rental car "like a hot knife through butter," the claim said, according to the AP.
The activist was decapitated.
Zoe Littlepage, a lead attorney on the case, told The Salt Lake Tribune, 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."
Esther Nakajjigo/Twitter Esther Nakajjigo
In a statement to the newspaper, U.S. Attorney for the District of Utah Trina Higgins, said Nakajjigo's family was entitled to damages.
The trial began Dec. 5 in Utah and was meant to determine how much money was owed to the family, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
During the trial, a U.S. attorney representing the government said, "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," per the newspaper.
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"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 read. "On behalf of the United States, we again extend our condolences to Ms. Nakajjigo's friends, family and beloved community."
"Essie was 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. We are grateful that Judge Jenkins honored Essie's life and legacy with this award," Littlepage said in a statement to PEOPLE.
Higgins did not immediately return PEOPLE's request for comment.
Nakajjigo was Uganda's ambassador for women and girls, and ran a health center in her home country that she set up when she was just 17 years old to provide free health services to adolescents.
She was also the brains behind two reality TV shows that aimed to empower young mothers and encourage girls to stay in school.
She reportedly moved to Colorado for a social entrepreneurship program at the Watson Institute in Boulder.