Missing UW-La Crosse student found dead in Mississippi River

Family of Hamud Faal remembers hard-working student set to graduate in May as one who 'lived life with purpose'

People walk by a sign that says "University of Wisconsin La Crosse"
People walk on the sidewalk near UW-La Crosse on Friday, Sept. 11, 2020. Angela Major/WPR

A missing University of Wisconsin-La Crosse student was found dead in the Mississippi River on Thursday.

Hamud Faal was reported missing on Sunday, Feb. 20 by his roommates after a night out in downtown La Crosse, according to Faal’s family. He was last seen early that morning walking alone on Front Street near the Mississippi River.

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While two community searches of the downtown area took place in the week after Faal’s disappearance, family said winter weather complicated efforts to find the missing student.

Assistant Police Chief Jason Melby said ice on the Mississippi River thawed enough in recent days to allow the La Crosse Fire Department’s Water Rescue team to begin a search using sonar technology on Thursday. Faal’s body was recovered in about 25 feet of water near the Division Street landing on the river Thursday afternoon.

Melby said La Crosse Police’s investigation is ongoing.

“Our staff is going to continue to try to piece together how Hamud ended up in the river,” Melby said. “We will also have an autopsy which will include some degree of laboratory and forensic testing, to try to determine the cause of death and any other suspicious circumstances that may be involved.”

Jerreh Kujabi is Faal’s stepfather. He said the news this week has brought sadness and some relief for his family after nearly a month of searching for answers.

“This is not the news that we were hoping for. But we are grateful to our Maker that he’s directed us to be able to locate him and at least be able to give him a final resting place,” Kujabi said.

Kujabi said he is hopeful the continued police investigation will bring his family more answers about the circumstances around Faal’s death. He said officers have been helpful to the family and forthcoming with information.

Kujabi said he also hopes to learn more about the history of similar deaths of young people in the Mississippi River in the La Crosse area.

“To be able to at least have historical context, of how prevalent are these sorts of events, the demographics. Is this just the student population, does it include other people within the community?” he said. “Those are things that I will be interested to find out.”

Melby said the city has made what he describes as environmental changes to try to reduce drowning deaths in recent years, installing better lighting and design infrastructure to make people more aware they are on the river’s edge. He said the department also tries to improve the community’s awareness about the proximity of the Mississippi, Black and La Crosse rivers.

“We have people of all ages that end up in the river, unfortunately. Over the course of my career, we’ve seen it happen” Melby said. “As long as we have the three rivers in the immediate area, the La Crosse Police Department will unfortunately continue to have tragedies similar to this.”

Kujabi said Faal was looking forward to graduating from UW-La Crosse this spring with a degree in psychology. He hopes his son is remembered as being a fun-loving and good person.

“He’s a kid that lived life with purpose even though he’s young. He’s worked hard. He’s been really respectful to us, especially his mom,” Kujabi said. “Friends, family members and even people that have come into contact through casual relationships can attest to what I just said. So I would like people to remember that about him.”