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Husband Sues After His Human Rights Activist Wife Is Decapitated In Freak Accident At National Park

Esther Nakajjigo/Getty Images

Newlyweds Esther Nakajjigo and Ludovic Michaud‘s life together was cut short due to a freak accident last June.

Esther Nakajjigo was a well sought-after and highly celebrated human rights activist, deemed Uganda’s ambassador for women and girls, and projected to be the world’s next Oprah Winfrey.

On June 13, 2020, the couple was exiting Arches National Park in Utah to get some ice cream.

In a wrongful death report Ludovic Michaud, a video streaming technology solution architect from France, has since been working on filing, he explained there was a free-swinging metal gate by the main entrance of the park that struck their car.

The report depicted the gate’s motion: 

“The end of the lance-like gate pierced the side of their car and penetrated it like a hot knife through butter.” 

The gate not only managed to slice through the car and almost injured Michaud, but it also tragically decapitated Nakajjigo, leaving Michaud covered in his new bride’s blood.

In response to his wife’s tragic death, Michaud has since started the process of filing a wrongful death claim of 270-million dollars against Arches National Park.

Deborah Chang, Michaud’s lawyer, first filed an administrative claim on October 22 against the park, claiming the accident would not have occurred if the park’s service workers had simply made sure the gate was secured in place.

Chang explained that this needed to be filed first, as a necessary precursor to such a large lawsuit, which they aim to have filed within the next six months.

Michaud has since explained that filing the lawsuit feels like one way he can continue to help. 

“[Esther] was always willing to help. I was a couple of inches from dying, but I didn’t, and right now I have a mission: It’s to make sure what she’s done continues.” 

The lawsuit is for a hefty sum, but surely not enough to exchange for someone’s life.

That being said, Michaud has not hesitated in justifying the size of the lawsuit, citing not only Nakajjigo’s extensive activist history but also her financial contributions via fundraising and personal funds.

Since Nakajjigo was a teen, she was doing important work in Uganda, cited as Uganda’s ambassador for girls and women before even fully becoming an adult herself, at the young age of 17.

She also used her college tuition money in Uganda to found a nonprofit community health center.

Later, Nakajjigo launched the “Saving Innocence Challenge,” which was a reality show that funded businesses, which provided working and educational opportunities for hundreds of island girls from Lake Victoria who believed they had no other options. In a phenomenon known as “sex for fish,” these women became pregnant under the assumption that there was no other way for them to survive. Through Nakajjigo’s program, these women discovered there were other ways to live besides becoming pregnant.

After establishing herself in Uganda, Nakajjigo continued her advocacy in the United States after accepting multiple fellowships at the Watson Institute in Boulder, Colorado, and Drexel University in Philadelphia. Her goal was to continue providing resources for the girls and women she advocated for, but inevitably to also provide for women and girls everywhere.

Michaud and Chang together have argued that Nakajjigo’s life work was cut short and in the claim stated: 

“[Esther Nakajjigo was] destined to become our society’s future Princess Diana, Philanthropist Melinda Gates, or Oprah Winfrey.”

In addition to Nakajjigo’s impressive contributions, how Michaud has been impacted by her death also had to be considered.

Michaud has since suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), finding the act of continuing practices in his home that “Essie” would have otherwise completed debilitating.

Even doing something as simple as cooking food that she purchased was difficult.

Michaud said: 

“It’s a fear of erasing her, I guess, when you use something that she bought or that she ate or that we did together.” 

Receiving mail has been a particular burden on Michaud, reminding him on Nakajjigo’s untimely death and the fact that she should still be here, continuing her work.

Paperwork has continued to show up at Michaud’s home, including information on Nakajjigo’s citizenship status and Visa status, giving her the opportunity to travel wherever she needed to in order to continue her work.

Michaud mourned: 

“Her dreams were just about to come true.”

The couple met via a dating website in June 2019 while Nakajjigo was working in Colorado. Michaud had no idea what all Nakajjigo had accomplished at the time, but he found her to be “really interesting.”

Michaud reflected: 

“I found her really interesting. I didn’t know who she was at first.”

They originally intended to travel to Uganda this spring to have a traditional Ugandan wedding, but with travel restrictions in place, they decided to marry in a courthouse in March instead.

Always fascinated by the sandstone arches found in Arches National Park, Michaud was passionate about taking his new bride there to see them, though their visit tragically resulted in Nakijjigo’s untimely death.

Michaud confided: 

“I felt completely meaningless [after losing her]. I couldn’t work properly for a couple of months. It’s still hard to concentrate, but I try to.”

Arches National Park’s responded on their Facebook page, detailing the investigation and briefly apologizing to Michaud and the rest of Nakijjigo’s family. 

“Our sympathies go out to the family members of the deceased and our thanks to all agencies that responded to assist with the accident.”

Followers of the page also expressed their sympathies for all involved. 

Arches National Park/Facebook
Arches National Park/Facebook
Arches National Park/Facebook
Arches National Park/Facebook
Arches National Park/Facebook

Esther Nakijjigo’s remains have been transported back to Uganda in August to be buried in proper Ugandan tradition to be buried close to her family.

Ludovic Michaud’s lawsuit against Arches National Park, in partnership with his lawyer Deborah Chang, is still being processed.

McKenzie Lynn Tozan

Written by McKenzie Lynn Tozan

McKenzie Lynn Tozan lives in North Chicago, where she works as a poet, freelance writer, and editor. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Western Michigan University, and her BA in English from Indiana University South Bend. Her poems have appeared in Rogue Agent, Whale Road Review, the James Franco Review, Thank You for Swallowing, and elsewhere; and her essays and book reviews have appeared with Memoir Mixtapes, The Rumpus, BookPage, and Motherly, among others. When she's not reading and writing, she's in her garden or spending time with her family. For more, visit www.mckenzielynntozan.com.