Editor's note: At a hearing on December 10, Samba Dioum's bail was reduced to $5,000. For the latest on the story, read Samba Dioum of #FreeSamba Movement Has Bail Reduced to $5,000. See our original coverage of his story below.
It's not often that parents and students rally on behalf of a person accused of wielding a gun at a school.
But that's the case for nineteen-year-old Elhadji Samba Dioum, known by his friends and family as Samba.
Dioum was arrested and formally charged after what's been described as a robbery attempt last week at Denver East High School.
SWAT officers were called in, and the school was locked down as a result of what went down.
But rather than castigating Dioum, a popular player for Denver East's basketball team, plenty of folks are rallying to his aid — raising funds on his behalf and spreading the good word about him via a social-media campaign marked by the hashtag #FreeSamba.
On the afternoon of December 3, the Denver Police Department tweeted the following:
By the time the incident took place, most of the students had already split; it was an early-dismissal day.
Nonetheless, the report of a gun at a high-school campus threw those still in the area into a panic.
Within minutes of the report, Denver police officers descended on the school.
Here's a photo of SWAT team members inside the facility, as shared with 7News.
Before long, Dioum was taken into custody on suspicion that he had tried to rob another student — though there are questions about how serious an effort it was.
According to a probable-cause statement on view below, the victim in the case told police that Dioum approached him in the parking lot while holding a gun at his side and said, "I need $10. If you try to leave, I will shoot you."
In response, the victim opened his wallet. Dioum responded by saying he wanted more money, the report states, but the victim refused and got the attention of other students. At that point, Dioum is quoted as saying, "Oh, I was just kidding. This is just a joke" before running off.
He repeated this account after he was arrested, saying, "It was just a joke. The gun was just a toy" — a BB gun brought to the campus by another student that may not have been operational. He added, "I didn't even take the money."
This account didn't get Dioum out of trouble. He remains in custody at this writing on a $100,000 bond.
Meanwhile, a number of people have stepped up to defend Dioum, including the Reverend Dawn Riley Duval, who describes herself in a letter to Denver East administrators that's been widely circulated on Facebook as a Denver East alum and black-liberation activist.
According to Duval, the BB gun incident is hardly indicative of Dioum's character.
Here's an excerpt from her letter:
I am writing in support of Elhadji Samba Dioum. Standing at 6'7" and born and raised in Senegal, Samba is a statuesque, beautifully Black student-athlete on the East basketball team. He is an intelligent young man — he constantly asks questions, looks for the falsehood within the "facts," and he has a "B" average. A senior at East High School, Samba cares for the Denver community: he volunteers at East High School's basketball clinics, he worked in hospitality at a local hotel, and he cares for the elderly gentleman who took him in last year.... Samba's zest for life is a joy to behold — he is wonderfully outgoing, kind, generous, with genuinely jovial, raucous laughter; indeed many students refer to Samba as one of the nicest students at East, while others refer to him as a "gentle giant." And Samba's future is bright, he aspires to earn a full scholarship and play collegiate basketball and eventually play professional basketball.
On Thursday, December 3 - with all of his brilliance, generosity of spirit, and aspirations — Samba used a friend's broken BB gun while jokingly pretending to hold up another student. Indeed, Samba made a stupid mistake - all teens make mistakes — but, Denver East High School and the justice system need not require that Samba pay for his mistake for the rest of his life. This lone incident does not define Samba, just as no one incident defines you or me. Samba has no previous history of reckless choices or illegal behavior, rather he has a life-long history of strong character, pride, care for others, a special determination to succeed, and strong loving support from his American family and community that is deep and wide and ready to fight for Samba's human right to flourish.
I implore you, Denver East High School and Denver's legal system: see Samba; free Samba; give Samba reasonable consequences for his mistake; and give Samba the opportunity to press forward toward his bright future.
In Solidarity with Samba,
The Rev. Dawn Riley Duval
Others communicated their support for Dioum on Twitter using the aforementioned #FreeSamba hashtag.
Here are several examples:
Don't believe everything you see on the media, Samba was such a nice person and wouldn't do anything to hurt anyone #FreeSamba— De'Janae' (@dee_janaee) December 5, 2015
Sad to see someone like Samba in the situation that he is in right now. Such a nice guy. Really hoping he'll be out soon #freesamba— maliq (@thablackfabio21) December 6, 2015
An old-fashioned letter-writing campaign is also promoted in this tweet:
On another front, a "Help Free Samba" page has been launched on the Fundrazr.com site.
Its introduction reads:
Like many of us, Samba Dioum (19) was just someone aiming for a better life for himself and his parents. At age 18, he moved to Denver, Colorado on a scholarship to pursue a career in basketball via the East High school of Denver. All who know Samba have only positive testimonies on this young man- he's honest, kind, and hardworking on and off the court with a bright future ahead of him- in and out of basketball. Recently, due to an admittedly childish mistake, Samba was detained on the charges of aggravated robbery and felony menacing for waving a BB gun at a classmate- something Samba perceived to be a joke. He has now been detained for 4 days and counting. A judge on Friday set his bail at $100,000. We are seeking contribution from anybody who would like to help this young man get his life back on track , The first step is posting his bail.
This goal is still a considerable ways from being achieved. Here's a screen capture from the site showing the current number of donations.
For more information, click here.
Next on Dioum's docket is a Thursday, December 10, court appearance.
There, he'll be formally advised of the charges against him: attempted aggravated robbery, menacing and theft from a person.
Look below to see Dioum's booking photo, a 7News piece about the lock down and the probable cause statement and charging documents.
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