Soldier, two sons who drowned buried in Igembe

Officer James Meme, seven-year-old Vincent Muchui and Joseph Kithinji, 11, at their funeral on December 28, 2018. Meme, Vincent and Joseph drowned in a quarry at the 12 Engineers Battalion's Thika Barracks on December 18. [Olivia Murithi, Standard]

A soldier and his two sons who drowned inside a military barrack were on Friday buried at their rural home in Keigoi, Igembe South.

Sergeant James Meme, 40, and his sons Joseph Kithinji, 11, and Vincent Muchui aged seven, drowned in a flooded quarry inside the Kenya Defence Forces’s Thika Garrison, about 100 metres from the staff quarters.

Meme's family members and his colleagues in the military eulogised Sgt (pst) Meme as a staunch Christian who believed in modesty, honesty and loved peace.

“He believed in modesty, integrity, honesty and humility. Meme always worked on uniting people, be it at work or in the family,” said Meme’s youngest brother Moses Karani.

Karani added that his brother was a pillar in the extended family and was mostly concerned with their welfare.  

“He loved his parents such that any time he heard they were sick he could rush home and pick them for treatment and take care of them at his residence in Thika barracks. He earned respect from his seniors at work, his peers, his juniors and friends,” Karani added.

Before the deaths occurred Meme was living with his family together with his ailing mother Gladys Kabiria who had been receiving treatment in Thika town. Due to her health Kabiria did not attend the burial.

Lieutenant Colonel JM Masai, the Commanding Officer 12 engineers’ battalion, said Meme was a disciplined member of the service.

Meme’s sons Kithinji and Muchui were said to like exploring new things.

“Anyone who shared a moment with Vincent would described him as lovely, jovial, intelligent, kind-hearted, one who always thought before he spoke, and full of respect for everyone. He always wanted to find out,” said family member, Denis Mutethia.

However during the burial, political leaders called for the national government to compensate the family.

The leaders said the deaths were caused by negligence by the military for failing to fence and restrict access to the quarry.

In attendance were Igembe South MP John Paul Mwirigi, Kubai Kiringo (Igembe Central), EALA MP Mpuru Aburi, Meru assembly speaker Kaberia Arimba and several MCAs.

Kiringo said the leaders will follow up to have the Government issue full compensation to the family.

“If there was someone who fenced the quarry we could not have lost such a number of family members. It is a blow to the family but a challenge to the government. We need total compensation to the family,” MP Kiringo said.

“No amount of compensation can bring back the life lost but we want the government to be responsible."

Police said bodies of the three were recovered at 11pm after an eight-hour operation by the Disaster Response Unit from KDF.

Murithi, the family’s last born, said he watched as his brothers dived into the flooded quarry.

Muchui is said to have jumped into the quarry first. When he took too long to resurface, his brother Kithinji got worried and jumped in to rescue him. Murithi then ran back to the house to inform his father about the incident. He found his father sleeping.

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

The children’s mother, Eunice, 37, who was away at a clinic in Thika, is said to have attempted suicide after the body of her husband and two sons were retrieved.

According to Meme and Karambu’s families, KDF at first kept information about the deaths secret. Karambu’s father, Henry Mworia, said he first learnt about the incident through social media.

The military also tried to keep the incident away from the media and denied journalists access to the quarry.

The police signal on the incident indicated a report was filed around 7pm at Makongeni Police Station.

The three were buried in separate graves.

The Standard
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