It has been more than two-weeks since gunmen abducted Italian social worker Silvia Romano, but little has been heard concerning her whereabouts or well-being.
Police remain upbeat, however, about rescuing the European volunteer even as search operations intensify within and around the expansive Boni forest into which her abductors are said to have disappeared.
A multi-agency security team comprising of police and army units has reportedly sealed off Boni forest and the areas bordering Lamu, Garisa and Tana River counties in search of the bandits who also injured five locals at Chakama in Kilifi during the ambush.
Police sources on the ground told Nation that they believe the attackers could still be hiding in the forest or in any of the ‘manyattas’ that pepper the vast hinterland in Garsen, Tana River County.
“The abductors are marooned in Tana River County and lack means of transport after their two motorcycles, which were recovered by police, broke down in the forest,” said the source who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Police believe that Ms Romano is still alive in the hands of the abductors following reports from the herders among the Orma community of seeing the abductors in the forest wearing ‘buibui’ outfit.
The source also dismissed possibilities that the abductors might have crossed with Ms Romano into Somalia. “We suspect they are in hiding somewhere in the forest waiting for the heat to die down before proceeding with their journey.”
So far, detectives from the Anti-Terrorism Police Unit from Nairobi have camped in Tana River and Kilifi counties to spearhead investigations.
Coast regional coordinator Bernard Leparmarai responded to concerns that the operation was taking too long by saying that the harsh weather condition and poor communication had affected the mission.
“The operation has been hampered by harsh weather conditions such as and road network,” he said adding that lack of communication infrastructure in the remote hinterland had also affected the operation.
At the same time, Mr Leparmarai said some people connected to the suspect have been arrested and they are assisting police with investigations, which extend to Garissa and Lamu counties.
“Currently I cannot comment more about the investigation and let us leave it to police to do their work,” he said adding that “we still believe the abductors are criminal ‘extortionists’ who might be planning to sell her to Al Shabaab terrorists.”
Africa Milele Onlus, a non-governmental organisation which Ms Romano used to work with it by helping orphaned children, released a statement pledging their support.
“We have no words to express what has happened. Silvia, we are all with you,” the organisation said on its social media pages following the abduction.
Members of the victim's family are yet to visit Kenya following the incident although sources told Nation that they are keeping tabs through the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Mr Ivan Del Prete, the Italian Consulate to Kenya based in Malindi, declined to comment on the issue and referred the Nation to the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for further information.
“Concerning the case you are enquiring about, please note that the Italian Embassy in Nairobi is bound to utmost discretion for the sake of the investigation,” he replied in a message.
Some of the residents at Chakama who knew Ms Romano said she was a jovial and generous woman who lived simply and freely mingled with locals.
“I remember the day when she asked me to accompany her to the villages for a walk where she ate ‘ugali,’ sukuma wiki and fish for lunch,” said Mr Ronald Kazungu, 19.
Kazungu Mure described Ms Romano as a big-hearted person who empathised with the poor and oppressed. He added that she would often use money out of her own pocket to buy food for the hungry.
In one idyllic photo on her Facebook page, a jovial Ms Romano, who displayed a penchant for the Maasai "shuka" can be seen mingling with children and canoeing in a boat on River Sabaki-Galana at sunset.
Chakama assistant chief Macdonald Mwaringa told Nation on phone that so comfortable was Ms Romano with the locals that she chose to stay in a single-roomed house to assist the orphaned children.
“Everyone loved her so much and we are saddened by her abduction. We pray that God will protect and bring her back alive,” he added.