Trail of death raises fear of killer gangs' return as residents cry foul

Esther Achieng. Her baby was shot and died while undergoing treatment at the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Eldoret. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

It was sunset at Sabatia market in Butere constituency, most businesses were closing down after the hustling and bustling of the day, and it was time for traders to go and reunite with their families at home.

Paul Otaalo, a renowned businessman at the market, saw his last customers, and together with his wife, Esther Achieng, closed the shop at 8.30pm on October 12.

About ten minutes later, they arrived home, and their son, who was in the back seat, came out of the car to open the gate. But in a split second, two people, one brandishing an AK47 rifle and the other a machete emerged from the thicket.

"We started shouting while hooting, seeking help, but the attackers ordered me to keep quiet," said Otaalo, who defied the order, prompting their assailants to shoot at them.

"I was in the driver's seat when they fired at us. The bullet shattered my left hand and grazed my wife's breasts before hitting my two-month-old daughter. I pleaded with them to spare our lives, and in response, they said all they wanted was money. I took my bag containing Sh260,000, and my documents and threw them," said Otaalo, who hails from Bululwe Emulundi village in Butere.

The attackers picked up the bag and escaped on a motorcycle.

"I found myself in hospital after regaining consciousness. My hand had to be amputated as all the nerves were dead. My wife's breast had a huge wound, and we lost our baby. I can't imagine I am alive," said Otaalo.

Their baby died while undergoing treatment at the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Eldoret.

Achieng said: "I am in deep pain, and when my breasts recover fully, the scar will always remind me of the day I almost met my maker before time."

Phoustine Otaalo. Her son Paul Otaalo and daughter-in-law Esther Achieng were attacked by two gangsters brandishing an AK47 rifle and a machete. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

The couple is reading malice in the manner in which the police investigated the matter, with Otaalo claiming that his wife's phone taken by the attackers, was on for at least two days "but they (police) declined to track it so that the assailants could be arrested."

"Officers from Butere police station came here at 10.30am, way long after the incident and recovered spent cartridges. The following day, they told us to look for the cartridges, which they had already collected," said Joseph Otaalo, the victim's elder brother.

Butere residents say at least seven people have been killed in the last six weeks. At Mushitende village, the gang killed Francis Bulimo Mutende on September 10 when he confronted the attackers at his homestead. They had come to steal his cows.

"When he went out to check what was happening, I heard him ask, 'Young man' what are you doing here," said Anne Shisia, 66. "The next thing I heard was my husband calling for help."

"His head had been hacked into two. We took him to the hospital on a motorcycle, but he succumbed to the injuries while receiving treatment moments later," said Ms Shisia. "We reported the matter, but to date, no investigations were carried out and we don't know who the killers are."

At Eshisisia village in Shianda-Marenyo ward, a security guard, Joseph Kusimba Okoba, was hacked to death around 1am on October 18.

According to his son, Patrick Osule, the attackers hacked his father with a sharp object in the head and stabbed him several times.

"The general security of Butere and the region is not good. People are being killed and robbed of their valuables, and when you report to the police, no action is taken," said Charles Maero, Marenyo location community policing chairman.

According to him, the insecurity cases in Butere have become a booming business for some police officers aiding crime in the area.

"Even if you suspect someone or have evidence against him and report to the police, the officers will reveal your identity to the gang members and in turn, launch retaliatory attacks against informers," he said.

Charles Maero, Marenyo location community policing chairman. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

Frank Nelson Madara, 60, was abducted at around 10.30 pm on October 9 while on duty at St Joseph's Girls High School in Kakamega town.

He was found dead at Obunga in Kisumu 48 hours later. His kidnappers told Madara's colleague that they were instructed by the strangers to go to Kakamega Central Police Station if they wished to see him.

For the last six weeks, a series of gang attacks have left at least seven people dead. The victims are either shot dead and sometimes, they are butchered in a ritualistic fashion. In most cases, nothing is usually stolen from the victims after the attacks.

According to the locals, the sporadic attacks are being orchestrated by gangs calling themselves '42 brothers and 22 sisters'.

Whenever it strikes, the gang, whose members are said to be between 15 and 25 years old, leaves behind a common calling card: bodies with tongues, genitals, and eyes ripped out.

But Butere Sub-county Police Commander Julius Kiptoo said they have silenced all the gangs in the area and the current spate of insecurity are isolated incidents caused by "a few idle youths" insisting that he is only aware of two incidents.

Mr Kiptoo said current attacks are being orchestrated by a group of lazy youths, saying a number of them have since been arrested.

"We are investigating the two incidents and when we get hold of the culprits, we shall arraign them in court," said Kiptoo

But Western Region Commissioner, Irungu Macharia, said in a phone interview, "We are aware of a few incidents, but we didn't know it's that serious."

"We had not taken it (42 brothers) seriously that it was an organised gang, but we shall deal with them with a lot of firmness and bring to book all those involved," said Mr Macharia.

"I have asked my people to investigate whether the gang members are regrouping again so that we can take action against them," he added.

The attacks are reminiscent of similar attacks in 2019 that left at least 50 people dead, with hundreds left nursing life-threatening savage injuries in Butere, Matungu and Khwisero sub-counties.

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