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Friday, March 31, 2023

UF students and friends reflect on the death of activist Oluwatoyin “Toyin” Salau

Oluwatoyin “Toyin” Salau
Oluwatoyin “Toyin” Salau

Dance, cry, dance, repeat. The series of emotions rose and fell rhythmically like heartbeats.

A friend was dead. A single voice rang.

“I want this whole street lit up for my friend.”

The sky was a pink-and-orange sunset. As it began to darken, candles lit up and lined the 2100 block of Monday Road in Tallahassee near where 19-year-old Oluwatoyin “Toyin” Salau’s body was found on June 13.

Salau, an activist who spoke at recent Tallahassee Black Lives Matter protests, was last seen June 6 after calling the Tallahassee Police Department and tweeting about a sexual assault.

Salau was found in the woods covered in leaves. The body of Victoria Sims, a 75-year-old AARP volunteer, was also found in a nearby house. Aaron Glee Jr., 49, was arrested for murder and kidnapping in Orlando June 13.

Chants of “justice for Toyin” echoed as clouds of burning sage filled the air. Purple balloons broke free and lifted themselves into the sky. Hearts fell as fast as mascara-filled tears.

Flowers, candles and posters covered the road. Some posters read “Rest in Power Toyin,” “I love you, Toyin” and “Protect Black Women.”

Justice 4 Toyin Poster

A poster that reads “REST IN POWER” and “#Justice4Toyin #BLM” lays on Monday Road in Tallahassee next to a row of flowers and candles.

About 100 people, mostly college students and teens, attended the vigil. Some UF students, who were friends of Salau, were also present at the Monday vigil.

Abbey Ladwig-Conway, a 20-year-old UF history junior, wrote in an Instagram direct message to The Alligator that she remembers seeing Salau in the halls of Lincoln High School and even at graduation. To Ladwig-Conway, seeing the community honoring Salau at the vigil was powerful, but watching her close friends mourn her was heartbreaking.

Salau’s death was a preventable tragedy, she wrote.

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“I think Tallahassee Police Department could have done literally so much more, and it’s so upsetting that it had to get to this point,” she wrote. “Toyin should still be alive.”

Talia Miller, an 18-year-old UF health education and behavior freshman, wrote that she attended several protests where Salau was outspoken about her beliefs. Miller wrote that she feels terrified and traumatized by Salau’s death. She also described Sims’ death as heartbreaking.

“It could have easily been any one of us Black women, and nothing was done to protect her,” she wrote.

Miller believes the outrage over Salau’s death is because she called the police, tweeted about her sexual assault and how she escaped it on her own, but didn’t receive help and ultimately died because of it.

“She literally did everything she was supposed to, yet in people’s eyes, she wasn’t worth enough to protect,” Miller wrote.

Angel Footman, a 21-year-old UF English graduate, wrote that she was friends with Salau and feels deeply saddened, enraged and tired.

Footman wrote that throughout the years, Salau helped her see light when she was in dark spots, calling Salau one of the most kind and genuine people she’s met.

“Her life’s circumstances did not turn her cold,” she wrote. “For her life to be taken by the same person she was fighting, advocating for is cruel. She did not deserve that. The world did not deserve her.”

Alyssa Crowe, a 20-year-old UF psychology junior, wrote that she also went to high school with Salau.

While Crowe didn’t know Salau well, she wrote that she knew she had dreams and goals she never got to reach. To Crowe, Salau was unfairly taken from this earth, and her death is weighing on her emotionally.

“This is someone who went to the same school as me, grew up in the same neighborhood as me, was the same age as me,” she wrote. “If I were in a slightly different circumstance, I could be dead, and my community would have failed to protect me, just as it failed to protect Toyin.”

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Asta Hemenway

Asta Hemenway is a third-year senior majoring in Journalism. Born in Tallahassee, she grew up Senegalese American. When she’s not writing or doing school, she loves watching Netflix and Tiktok in her spare time. 

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