Anguish as families, nation mourn school tragedy victims

Wednesday March 18 2020
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A mother mourns her child's death at Kakamega Hospital mortuary in western Kenya on February 4, 2020. PHOTO | BRIAN ONGORO | AFP

By CAROLINE WAFULA
By BENSON AMADALA

When Lavender Janet Andiso prepared her son for school on Monday, she had no idea that it would be the last time she would be seeing him alive.

Verm Prince, 10, was in Grade Four and a new pupil at Kakamega Primary School who was just settling in, after joining the school just three weeks ago.

His mother transferred him from Sam’s Junior School, a private school around their home in Mwiyala village, Lurambi, Kakamega county.

He was her only son and the apple of her eye. She preferred that he studies in a public school and Kakamega Primary was her best bet for her child’s foundation.

On the fateful day, she saw him off after agreeing that she would pick him later after school.

“When he left home in the morning, he had asked me to go to school and pick him so that we could go and shop together," said Ms Andiso.

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She learnt about the devastating news of the tragedy at the school from her friend on Monday evening before coming face to face with the horrific news that her son was among the victims.

"I rushed to Kakamega Primary to find out whether my son was safe but I did not find him. I was asked to go to the County hospital where the injured had been rushed but did not find him there either," said Ms Andiso.

After searching the St Elizabeth, Mukumu hospital and the Nala nursing home she decided to go to the County Referral Hospital Mortuary, where her worst fears were confirmed.

"When I entered the mortuary, I saw my baby lying there lifeless,” she said, her eyes red with crying.

"My son wanted to a pilot or doctor after university but that dream has sadly been cut short," she said.

It has since emerged that a number of the victims of the Monday evening tragedy were new comers at the school who had only joined recently and had barely settled down.

As of Tuesday evening, the number of causalities remained 14 — nine girls and five boys according to an official government statement by Deputy President William Ruto. Of all the pupils who were injured in the stampede, 36 were treated and discharged, two are still in Intensive Care Unit at the county referral hospital while three are admitted at the surgical ward and three in the general ward.

Scenes at Kakamega County Referral Hospital mortuary were heartrending as bereaved families wailed uncontrollably, mourning the sudden demise of their young ones.

A team of first aiders from the Kenya Red Cross and the St John Ambulance helped the distraught families and took them through counselling sessions.

At the school, now a scene of crime, a heavy cloud of grief hang, as shocked parents and members of the school community tried to come to terms with had transpired.

It has emerged that the stampede happened at around 4:40pm after classes were concluded. It is still not clear what exactly happened, with contradicting accounts of the possible cause. Some pupils claim one the two stairway exits/entries had been closed and a teacher instructed pupils to use one way.

They claimed they started running after the teacher redirected them, resulting in a stampede. Other accounts are that a pupil had attempted to block his colleagues from passing when the stampede occurred.

But investigators were yet to conclude their probe by last evening, despite earlier assurance from Regional Commissioner Anne Ng'etich that it would be done by close of Tuesday.

Some of the parents said they had sought transfers for their children in January this year and were shocked by the tragic incident which claimed 14 lives on Monday.

Mr Peter Mayamba and his wife, Lucy Mugambaji are struggling to come to terms with the death of their 10-year-old daughter, Catherine Aloo who was a Grade Five pupil at the school.

Mr Mayamba from Lurambi in Kakamega County described his daughter as loving and jolly. He had a special attachment to daughter because when she was born, she had been sickly and spent much of her childhood in hospital.

But she eventually regained her health and joined the Little Lilys Academy in Kakamega town before she joined Kakamega Primary last month.

Mr Mayamba said his daughter had requested him to buy her a geometrical set after settling down at Kakamega primary.

“I bought my daughter the geometrical set on Sunday and bought her a cake and some yoghurt. On Monday morning, I woke up early and escorted her to school not knowing this was the last time I was the last time I would see my daughter alive,” said Mr Mayamba.

His wife could not find the words to express the agony of losing a loving child.

Mr Daniel Mbaja from Maraba estate in Kakamega town lost his daughter, Venesa Andeso, 9, in the incident. The girl had joined the school in January this year from Jawabu Academy.

“I escorted my daughter to school early on Monday and she was in jovial mood. I did not know that this was the last time I would see her alive. When I got news of the stampede at Kakamega primary, I got so worried fearing the worst had happened to my daughter,” said Mr Mbaja.

Mrs Juliet Wishenga, is still shocked at the turn of events that claimed the life of her nine-year-old daughter Junne Nakhumicha, a Grade Four pupil, who had joined the school three weeks ago.

Mrs Elsie Lugalo, a former teacher of the pupil at her previous school said the girl was obedient and God fearing.

“My daughter has gone too soon and left me in pain,” said Mrs Wishenga.

From Ikonyero village, parents of 10-year-old Lavenda Akosa are mourning the death of daughter. Her aunt, Esther Osida described Lavenda as happy and respectful child.

“We are sad she is gone too soon,” said Ms Osida.

Also visited by the tragedy is the family of Ibrahim Kiverengje from Shikambi residential estate.

Mr Kiverenge lost his daughter, Nailah Kiverenge, 10, a Grade Four pupil.

From Esumeyia village, Mrs Joyce Mabuko lost her 11-year-old daughter Bertha Anyanga who was also a Grade Five pupil.

She said she received a call at 5.30pm about the tragedy at the Kakamega primary. But when she got to the school, she did not find her daughter.

“I went to the hospital an after checking in the ward, my daughter was not there. I decided to go to the morgue and found her lifeless lying on floor,” said Mrs Mabuko.

A police officer, Mrs Irene Ambundo, is mourning the death of her daughter, Elizabeth Prudence Apeni, 9.

Mrs Ambundo, an Administration Police officer at the Kakamega AP headquarters buried her husband in September last year but before she could recover from the loss, tragedy has struck again.

The heartbroken mother is down in prayers that her remaining son recovers from the injuries he sustained from the stampede.

Narrating the awful demise of her lovely daughter, Ms Ambundo said the day started well for the family as she bade goodbye to her children who were escorted to school by the driver to the police vehicle in the morning.

“In the evening, I received a call from the same driver who had escorted them to school telling me that pupils at Kakamega Primary school had collapsed and several feared dead. I rushed to the school and was among the first people. At the tuition block, we realised several children lying unconscious but my children were not among them,” she said.

She states that she moved upstairs and met her son Bramwel crying and limping claiming that his sister, Elizabeth had been injured. She got the sad news later in hospital that her daughter was among the pupils who had lost their lives.

Additional Reporting by Shaban Makokha