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A Life of Twists, Turns and Tragedy

Hundreds of relatives and friends gathered to share memories of Kadija Sho-Sawyer at Bowie State University last month after she was killed in a car accident in Sierra Leone.

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By Jenna Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 21, 2009

After the fateful phone call and the long flight from Washington to West Africa, Sulaiman Jalloh arrived at the funeral home in Sierra Leone to claim the body of his only daughter, Kadija.

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It was too late, he was told that day in December. Another man had already claimed her.

"They said this man, this Michel Sho-Sawyer, was her husband," said Sulaiman Jalloh, 57. He had known of his daughter's engagement but not her wedding. "I just kept saying, 'What is going on? Where is Kadija?' "

It was then that Jalloh learned about the surprising life that his 22-year-old daughter, a graduate of Bowie State University, had built for herself in Sierra Leone starting last summer. She had revealed select details to a few close friends and to her mother, who was divorced from her father years ago. But Jalloh knew nothing of his daughter's conversion from Islam to evangelical Christianity, or her ascension to Sierra Leone's highest social circles as the girlfriend and later wife of a prominent government official.

In 2005, the father learned, Kadija Jalloh met the man she would marry on a Web site about Sierra Leone -- Sho-Sawyer's native country, and that of her parents. She was a student at Bowie State; he was eight years her senior and living in Atlanta.

Late last year, they married in a small ceremony in a chapel in Prince George's County. And less than two weeks later, on a highway in Sierra Leone, a truck hit the couple's vehicle head-on.

Jalloh, 22, was killed.

Even now, Sulaiman Jalloh becomes emotional as he describes how he and his wife moved to the United States in the 1980s in search of greater opportunity for the children they hoped to have. From an early age, Kadija was fascinated with Sierra Leone, and her father encouraged her; he never dreamed she would move there.

"Sierra Leone is a good place to like," he said, "but it's a difficult place to stay."

Last month, more than 200 people -- including her parents and husband -- gathered at Bowie State to share memories and announce the creation of a foundation in her honor to build orphanages in Sierra Leone.

"She loved Sierra Leone," Sulaiman Jalloh said at the service. "And she went to Sierra Leone. And she died in Sierra Leone."

Kadija Jalloh visited Sierra Leone for the first time in 2005. During the two-week trip with her mother, Jalloh was enamored by the nightlife, music and fashion. Later that year, she started a Maryland chapter of the national organization Youth for Sierra Leone Improvement. At the time, Sho-Sawyer was the national president of the group.

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