Queries as soldier and sons drown in quarry at barracks

Julius Murithi the only surviving son of the late James Meme and Eunice Karambu with his grandfather Henry Mworia at their home in Kiegoi on December 20, 2018.Joseph Kithinji, 11 drowned on Tuesday along with his brother Vincent Muchui, 7 and their father James Meme. [Olivia Murithi, Standard]

Tuesday was a painful day for 37-year-old Eunice Karambu. It started with an extraction of a tooth at a clinic in Thika Town.

And 12 hours later, Karambu nearly committed suicide after she was unable to locate her husband and two other sons.

Authorities at the 12 Engineers Battalion's Thika Barracks broke the news of the death of her husband, of 12 years, Sergeant James Meme Kobia, 38 and her sons Joseph Kithinji, 11, and Vincent Muchui, seven, confirming her worst fears.

The three drowned in a 30-feet gravel excavation quarry inside the garrison, only 100 metres from their military quarters.

The police said bodies of the three were recovered at 11pm after an eight-hour operation by a Disaster Response Unit from the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) headquarters.

Blithe response

But the family of Meme, from Mboone village in Keigoi, Igembe South, yesterday said poor response by KDF could have cost another life.

The family wondered why Karambu was kept in the dark over the death of her husband and children for such a long time.

She only came to learn the truth after the three bodies were retrieved from the quarry.

And five-year-old Julius Murithi, the last born in the family, yesterday appeared oblivious of the tragedy that had befallen his family.

He said he watched as his father and brothers dived into the quarry.

"They wanted me to join them in swimming but I refused," said Murithi.

Muchui is said to have jumped into the quarry first. However, he took too long to resurface, prompting his brother to jump in to rescue him.

That is when Murithi rushed back to the house to inform his father, who was sleeping, about the incident.

Alongside sons

Sgt Meme is said to have picked a tyre, he intended to use as a floater, and plunged into the pool only to drown alongside his two sons.

The military kept the incident away from the media and denied journalists access to the pool.

The police signal on the incident indicated a report was filed around 7pm at Makongeni Police Station by Corporal Stephen Meleji, of the Military Police, based at the Thika garrison.

In Meme's rural home, a sombre mood engulfed his family and neighbours as they tried to come to terms with the deaths. 

Ms Karambu was devastated and could not speak about the tragedy.

Family members were closely wathing her, especially after she attempted take the life of her remaining son and commit suicide at their home at Thika barracks.

Karambu's father and her brothers-in-law said they immediately drove to Thika after learning about the incident on social media.

Meme's elder brother Martin Kobia said his remaining son is being taken care of by officers at the barracks.

"Meme's colleagues informed the family Karambu had attempted to kill her son and herself upon learning about the incident," said Karambu's father, Mr Henry Mworia.

Kobia described his brother, who joined the KDF as a 17-year-old, as a humble and dedicated soldier who loved his family.

"He could not start something without consulting the family. He loved his family so much, that is why he died trying to save his children," Kobia said.

He said he had spoken with Meme the day he drowned and they were planning a family get together on December 31.

The tragedy is a big blow to the extended family which has been grappling with the sickness of Meme's mother. She was admitted to the Thika Memorial Hospital awhile back.

The burial of the three is set for December 28. 

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Thika BarracksJoseph KithinjiKenya Defence ForcesDisaster Response UnitQuarry