Events of the night of April 20, 2009 have permanently remained etched in the memories of residents of Gathaithi village in Nyeri.
It is the day 29 of their men were butchered in cold blood by Mungiki sect members in a revenge attack.
The bodies were left scattered along the walking paths.
Ten years later, details of the incident are still fresh in the minds of the families that remain bitter, poor and traumatised.
A mention of the word Mungiki in the village that sits on the border with Kirinyaga County gives many residents chills as the real culprits, well-known to the residents, were never apprehended.
In private conversations, they whisper the names but they cannot dare record with the media or State security agencies.
Though they are yet to recover from the massacre, Esther Wangui, Faith Muthoni and Macharia Muriuki have since forgiven the assailants, but they will never forget.
“We live in fear of another attack because most of those we know were behind the night raid escaped to unknown destinations and were never arrested. Others are still here,” says an elder, fearful to go on record.
The incident happened at the height of government’s crackdown on Mungiki in the region.
The mass murder came after days of tension in parts of Kagumo and Karatina where about 15 suspected Mungiki members were lynched by the public over harassment and extortion.
“That group subjected us to the worst economic torture. It had established an illegal tax system and imposed it on the residents. It would collect household and domestic animal taxes and demand for protection fees. When a man received his daughter’s dowry, members of the sect demanded their cut,” narrates the elder, 75.
Farmers selling five litres of milk per day remitted one to the gang. The gang would also storm houses at night randomly, demand supper and after filling their stomachs, rape the women in full glare of the husband, he goes on.
It was this harassment and the gang’s brutality meted against those opposed to their activities that led to the lynching of the 15.
The villagers, backed by the government, formed the vigilante groups to counter the sect's operations.
Before the Gathaithi massacre, suspected Mungiki members had regrouped and planned revenge attacks.
On the fateful night, Mungiki adherents, posing as members of a vigilante group that had carried out the lynching, combed the entire Gathaithi village mobilising their members to keep vigil over an impending attack.
Unaware they had been duped, the villagers agreed to keep vigil.
Those who turned up for the vigil were vetted at Kiaruhiu shopping centre in a process dubbed ‘andu mamenyane’ (let people know each other).
It is during the “vetting” that six villagers were discovered to belong the vigilante group and summarily executed by Mungiki.
After their execution, the Mungiki adherents, in their dozens, walked back to Gathaithi village and stormed the homestead of Esther Wangui, who had employed two farmhands from Kirinyaga County where majority of the vigilantes hailed from.
The two were also hacked to death. “My sons would also have been killed; it is only that they were not around. The attackers shattered window panes of my house and ordered me to open the door. They found no man in the house as my husband had passed away,” Wangui recalls.
She was ordered to go back to bed as the sect set on fire a house where one of the farmhands resided.
One of the workers was killed near a cowshed while the other was hacked inside the house and his body burnt beyond recognition. “It was about 3am.”
Another set of attackers was hiding by the roadside near Wangui’s home armed with machetes.
“They set the house on fire as a trap to attract other villagers. Neighbours responded to our screams and distress calls. They were ambushed at their gates and massacred,” she narrates. The assailants later vanished in darkness.
Faith Muthoni Thairu, whose husband Peterson Thairu Gichuki was among the victims, describes the incident as terrifying.
“When I saw my husband’s body among those lying on the road, I became unconscious. It hurts me because I am poor and my children cannot access better education. I know that if he was alive I would not be struggling,” she says.
“My husband was picked alongside his brother Daniel Mwangi Gichuki. When they were called, they never resisted because those who called them were people well-known to them,” says the widow.
She was left with three children, the youngest was four years old. “The eldest has since dropped out of college for lack of fees. It is his second year at home. Many a time we spend the night on empty stomachs,” she says.
Macharia Muriuki says he survived the attack by the grace of God. He was found unconscious in the bushes with severe injuries.
He was also picked up at home by the disguised Mungiki followers. “I am told I stayed in Intensive Care Unit for more than six months. I bled profusely. The injuries on my head and neck can tell you the attacker was out to finish me,” he says.
“One member of that group committed suicide. Others sold their land and left. Some of those arrested were later released. Police never questioned me after I was discharged from hospital,” he says.
The residents opposed the reconciliation efforts initiated by the late Bethuel Kiplagat-led Truth Justice and Reconciliation Committee on grounds that the members of the gang never confessed to committing the massacre.
“We could not reconcile with faceless people. Mungiki members who carried out the attack or their leaders would have been brought to us to confess so that we can reconcile,” says Mr Macharia.
“The families of the victims were promised help such as financing of their children’s education. Nothing came forth. The government only funded the burials,” says the elder.
“The residents still suffer from trauma. We would like to have a human rights lobby group assist us in pushing the government to compensate the families."
Later, police arrested 23 people suspected to be members of the sect. But the government was unable to prefer murder charges against them; they were charged with conspiring to commit a crime.
A magistrate’s court in Nyeri found them guilty and handed each of them a seven-year jail term.