Distraught families and friends of the nine Form One students who perished in a Saturday night fire at Moi Girls School, Nairobi, on Tuesday walked into Chiromo Mortuary to view the badly burnt bodies of their daughters.
The schedules of their highly emotional day involved several stages counselling, DNA sampling, viewing of the bodies, debriefing, and recording of statements.
Eight bodies were burnt beyond recognition and require scientific identification before they are released to the next of kin.
Head of the Human Anatomy Department at the University of Nairobi, Dr Peter Gichangi, said they will undergo DNA analysis.
“They cannot be identified by just viewing,” Dr Gichangi said.
“The time it will take to release the results will depend on how badly the fire destroyed the composition of the bodies.”
The remains of Mary Njengo Mokaya, the heroine who died rescuing other girls, could easily be identified, but they will also go through DNA sampling as two families are claiming the body, Mr Pius Masai, head of National Disaster Management Unit (NDMU), said.
Doctors conducted buccal swabs on the biological parents and siblings of the girls before they were allowed to view the charred remains.
The bodies were displayed in two separate rooms and the parents had to be accompanied by Red Cross officials and counsellors assigned to each family by the NDMU to view them.
Relatives of Hawa Aziz, Hanna Timado, Nancy Wamuthire, Esther Nyamari, Mary Njengo Mokaya, Whitney Kerubo, Marcia Atieno and Alakiir Malong were overwhelmed by emotions after viewing the bodies of their daughters.
Dr Joseph Kimani, a government chemist, told the grieving families that the process of identifying the bodies may take a different amount of time, depending on the state of the remains.
“We expect the process of the DNA analysis to take between three weeks and a month.
"I want to prepare you because of the state of the samples and we do not want to hurry the process and give you the wrong body,” he said.
The school’s board of management vice-chairman, Mr Stephen Kubai, assured the families that the institution will relay any information received from the government pathologists.
They will also receive updates on DNA sampling.
He also cautioned the families to be wary of imposters claiming to have details of the whereabouts of their daughters.
“We have received information that some people have been calling the families of the deceased claiming that their daughters are in some hospitals within the city.
"We know those are criminals and we have given their details to the Director of Criminal Investigations,” Dr Kimani said.
Family members were pensive as some grieved quietly while others were overcome by emotions.
Yet others narrated their final moments with their girls.
“We had spent the holiday together and she had been very happy,” Whitney Kerubo’s father, Mr Albert Kingoina Nyangweso, said.
“When the schools opened, her mother and I dropped her off and, as usual, she promised to work hard.”
At a corner of the pitched tents sat a tearful Ms Clara Asiko, whose daughter, Natalie Nanga, has been missing since the Saturday tragedy.
Her uncle, who only identified himself as Mr Renson, said the family was still hoping against hope that Natalie was not among the nine dead.
“She was the only daughter of Clara. Losing her will be very painful,” Mr Renson said.
“But we will await the end of the process to know the truth."
Mary Njengo’s mother, Ms Florence Agoto, described her daughter, who died on Monday morning at the Kenyatta national Hospital’s ICU, as brave.
“It is sad that we lost these girls at a tender age, just when they were about to discover what they wanted to be in life,” Mrs Agoto remarked.
Whitney’s mother, Ms Stella Nyaboke, described her daughter as a hardworking child who topped the class in Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics.
“She was a very religious girl and always said she wanted to be a doctor,” the distraught mother said, adding that her daughter had since primary school always received awards for being disciplined.
Mr Aziz Juma, the father of Hawa Aziz, said his daughter had told him that she was planning to go for a charity walk.
“I was supposed to send her some money for that but on the day I was going to, my wife alerted me that she had seen some disturbing news on a WhatsApp group, and that is how we learnt of the inferno,” Mr Aziz said.
In the meantime, all the girls admitted for treatment at Kenyatta National Hospital following the incident have been discharged.
Kenyatta National Hospital’s head of communications, Mr Simon Ithae, said one of them had been transferred to Gertrude’s Children’s Hospital.
The others admitted at Nairobi Women’s Hospital had been discharged by Tuesday, except Zandria Adema, a Form One student who is being treated for burns on her legs, and who is still admitted at the Adams’ Arcade branch of the hospital.
Reporting by Stella Cherono, Lilys Njeru, Pauline Kairu, and Caro Rolando