At least 53 people including 21 primary school pupils were feared dead after a series of raids by heavily-armed bandits on a remote trading centre in the far north of Kenya.
Five hundred raiders surrounded a school at dawn, massacring the children as teachers begged for their pupils' lives.
Three teachers – two men and a woman – also died as the bandits, dressed in jungle green camouflage, opened fire on anyone in sight.
They then chased the survivors into their manyattas (villages) and cut them down with machetes, knives and spears.
The raiders, armed with AK-47 rifles, sub-machine guns and hand grenades, struck at Turbi, about 130 kilometres from Marsabit Town.
Trail of destruction
They left a trail of destruction at the trading centre, Turbi primary school and in the nearby manyattas which they burned to the ground.
Of the 53 who died, at least 21 were children and 12 were raiders.
As well as the children who died, a further 11 pupils still in their school uniforms were admitted to the Marsabit district hospital, together with nine adults, three of whom were elderly women. All were said to be in critical condition.
In addition, residents said more than 100 villagers were badly injured.
All the injured were taken to Marsabit by traders from the town who, after being told of the killing, raced to the scene.
They were prevented from taking more of the victims to hospital by the bandits who repeatedly returned to the village, mounting six sporadic raids throughout the day.
One of the traders' vehicles, a Landcruiser owned by a Mr Roba Enema, which was also carrying Kenya Police reservists, was attacked on the way to the massacre scene and three people were injured.
Bodies of the pupils and the three teachers lay in their classrooms and the compound where they fell.
A senior Government official who comes from the area told the Nation that among those killed were four members of one family, who died in their blazing hut five kilometres from the town.
"We have asked our people not to bury the dead before the outside world can come and see that the Kenyan Government can't protect its own people," he said.
Central DO Peter Ndung'u confirmed that 22 of the dead had been killed in a terrifying attack in which hand grenades were used.
Mr Ndung'u said the toll could rise as more bodies were being discovered by the hour, as the raids continued.
The Government-owned Kenya News Agency put the death toll at 75. Other unconfirmed reports from Marsabit put the casualty figure as high as 86.
Elders estimated that the raiders also drove away 200 head of cattle, 300 camels and and 5,000 goats.
Eastern provincial deputy police chief Gerald Oluoch said police had only been told about the deaths of 22 people.
"We don't have a definite figure of the dead and the injured. It happened in a remote area and we will get a full report when our officers reach the ground," he said.
However, late last night, the Eastern police boss said of the 53 dead, 47 were villagers and seven raiders.
Survivors initially told nurses and doctors at Marsabit hospital that 27 people were killed in the day-long attacks.
They happened hours after Marsabit district commissioner Amos Gathecha gave a one-week ultimatum to the Gabra and Borana communities to return all stolen animals.
Addressing peace and reconciliation elders from Gabra and Borana communities at Marsabit members' club on Monday, the DC said the time when leaders incited their people and went free had long gone, and warned them that the Government would not rest until all criminals were brought to book.
Mr Gathecha also ordered chiefs to resettle all displaced people in their respective locations as the Government would provide security.
Survivors of yesterday's attack said most of the victims died on the spot while the rest died from excessive bleeding.
A civil servant who lives in the area said: "The raiders are from Moyale District. They attacked the village at 6am as children were going to school," said .
He added: "They were armed with firearms and they surrounded the whole village and started to shoot everyone on sight. The children took refuge in the manyattas but the raiders followed them there. They then started to slaughter people with pangas, knives and spears."
Mrs Talaso Halake, aged 65, who lost a son, daughter-in-law and three grandchildren told the Kenya News Agency from her hospital bed that the situation was horrifying and inconceivable. She suffered multiple bullet wounds.
The injured started arriving in Marsabit at 2.30pm, suffering cuts, bullet wounds and broken arms and legs.
"I have seen 20 casualties most of who are women and school children. The children are still in their uniforms. Most of these injured people have wounds all the over the body. And the wounds are mostly inflicted by knives and spears," one nurse said.
Reports of the massacre reached Marsabit police headquarters at 9am but the details were scanty.
About 20 officers were immediately sent to Turbi but it took them hours to reach the scene because roads are in a bad state.
Telephone links are also poor and the entire Marsabit District is relatively removed from the outside world.
Residents and leaders accused the police and the army of taking hours to respond to the attack and treating it casually.
They said a small group of police officers sent to the scene from Marsabit was no match for the large number of well-armed raiders.
A police helicopter was sent from Nairobi to Marsabit in the afternoon.
It collected food for officers heading to the area at GSU headquarters at Ruaraka before flying on to Marsabit.
However, Government spokesman Alfred Mutua said three helicopters had been dispatched to comb the area and pursue the raiders.
Another team was assessing the humanitarian needs of the victims, said Dr Mutua.
North Horr MP Bonaya Godana accused the Government of failing to act on tips from local leaders to stop the raids.
"I have been warning that such an incident would happen. There has been incitement from certain leaders and even the element of a foreign role in this attack cannot be ruled out because of the technical manner in which the raid was carried out," said Dr Godana.
But Dr Mutua said the Government could only appeal to local communities to avoid violence. The responsibility of stopping such raids belonged to local leaders, he said.
Deputy police commissioner Lawrence Mwadime said security forces took time to respond because they were waiting for feedback from officers sent to the scene in the morning.
Pilots at the Police Airwing had been asked to remain on standby as senior officers at Vigilance House, the Nairobi police HQ, waited for word from Marsabit.
"We couldn't dispatch police helicopters until we confirmed there was such an incident and its magnitude. We received scanty details in the morning and we had to wait for a concrete report from the officers we sent there," he explained. A contingent of armed regular police and administration police officers left Marsabit Town after 10am yesterday.
After attacking Turbi, the raiders moved to Burgabo area – 50 kilometres west of the trading centre, where they stormed another village, stealing livestock.
Police records show that more than 100 people have been killed in inter-clan and inter-border wars in Marsabit and Moyale districts since January.
Gunmen from Ethiopia have crossed into Kenya on several occasions and launched bloody attacks on Kenyans before fleeing back to their own country.
On June 17, four people were shot dead in a fight between two pastoralist communities in Marsabit.
Among those killed were an assistant chief of Qilta sub-location, Mr Benjamin Boru Wako, and police reservist Nyencho Shedo. The other two were civilians who were killed in retaliation attacks.
The communities at the centre of the disputes, the Boranas and the Gabras, are both pastoralists. They speak the same language and live together. They have intermarried and they also share the same names.
Reports last night said police had recovered 500 camels from the raiders who they said were Ethiopians. The reports said fighting was still going on between the police and the raiders at Balale in Marsabit District.