Blank stares, hushed whispers and tears characterised Chiromo Mortuary on Tuesday as the distraught families of the nine girls who perished in the Moi Girls School-Nairobi fire tragedy came to view the remains of their loved ones after the release of DNA test results.
Parents and relatives of the girls still smarting from the deadly tragedy of September 2 were overcome with emotions as they came face to face with the harsh reality that their young ones had been burnt to death.
The results confirmed and identified the bodies of Natalie Nanga Asiko, Marcia Okello, Alakiir Malong, Hana Jeysso Timado, Whitney Kerubo, Esther Neema, Hawa Aziz, Nancy Thuku and Mary Njengo.
The hushed whispers soon turned into screams and howls of grief and heartache as the inconsolable families slowly walked into the mortuary, where the remains were clearly marked with the victims’ names.
A woman yelled, “Why, why, why, my beautiful child, why!” after viewing the remains of her daughter.
She then collapsed as a young girl, who may have been a student or a sibling of one of the victims, wailed with despair as she hurriedly walked away from the mortuary.
Kenya Red Cross workers and members of the Kenya Counselling and Psychological Association worked themselves to a frenzy trying to console the dejected families and to offer First Aid to those who collapsed.
National Disaster Management Unit deputy director Pius Masai read out the names of the girls starting with Natalie Asiko, whose mother, Clara Asiko, has been struggling to grapple with the loss since the tragedy.
She had all through refused to accept that her daughter could be among those who lost their lives in the dormitory inferno.
When her daughter’s name was called out, she bravely walked into the mortuary and left just a few moments afterward only to collapse at the door.
When she regained consciousness with the help of the Red Cross staff, she wore a blank, dazed expression, with tears trickling down her ashen face.
“Our family and hers had been close because her daughter and our girl were very close friends all the way from primary school.
"Before the day that we were to come here to present our DNA samples, she called and told us that there was a need to come to the mortuary because she was sure the girls were not among the dead.
"She said she knew they were out there somewhere and would soon be found,” Lucy Ayak, Alakiir Malong’s step mother, said.
As Mr Masai read out the name of each child, the despondent parents broke into prolonged screams as they came face to face with the heart-breaking reality.
“All the nine bodies have been identified and we will be releasing the bodies to the families, each with a burial permit, so that they can go ahead with the last rites,” Mr Masai said, adding that all the families were counselled before they were allowed to view the remains.
Mr Masai said the government had made arrangements to help the families of the girls who lost their lives.
Biological parents and siblings of the nine girls submitted samples for DNA analysis last Tuesday.
Government Pathologist Johansen Oduor said the DNA matching, which was complicated because the girls’ bodies were badly burnt, was done quickly to save the families a prolonged wait for the truth.
“The process was conducted by a special team of pathologists, the government analyst and a team of investigators who worked round the clock,” Mr Oduor said on Tuesday, adding that the analysts were in some instances forced to dig into the bone marrow to extract samples owing to the extent of the burns.
Esther Neema’s family, including her father, mother and brother, who had attempted to view the body in the morning but rushed out before they could see it, having been overcome with grief, were allowed to re-enter at around 2pm.
Old students of the school, classmates and parents whose daughters survived the tragedy were present to give moral support to families of the victims.
“We’re all in this together. Nothing can ever fill the place of a child. Even if you have 10. The loss of that one is a huge blow,” Judy Owino, a parent at the same school who had come to support the mourning families, said.
Mr Yusuf Baraka and Mr Abdallah Weke — uncles of Hawa Aziz — expressed deep grief at the loss of their niece but praised the pathologists for their quick analysis.
Teachers who were at the mortuary did not speak to the media but the vice-chairman of the school’s board, Stephen Kibui, said it has been a hard time for the school.
Reported by Stella Cherono, Pauline Kairu and Caro Rolando