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Trail of killings in Butere spark fears of killer gang's return

FEATURES

The slanting rays of the setting sun gave a warm orange tinge to the sky. Shadows slipped up the rocks as though the world was drowning in darkness.

At Sabatia market in Butere constituency, most businesses were closing down after the hustle and bustle of the day and it was time for traders to go home and reunite with the rest of the family for dinner, then retire to bed.

Paul Chibayi Otaalo, a renowned businessman at the market, saw his last customers and together with his wife Esther Achieng, closed the shop at around 8.30 pm and embarked on their journey back home.

About 10 minutes later at 8.40 pm on October 12, 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, a gang of two people, one brandishing an AK47 rifle and the other one wielding a panga, emerged from a nearby 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 open fire on them.

He went on: "I have never prayed so sincerely and fast in my life as I did when the attackers started shooting at us," he said.

Otaalo, who hails from Bululwe Emulundi village in Butere, narrates the ordeal, "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 on her right flank."

"I pleaded with them to spare our lives. In response, they said all they wanted from me was money. I took my bag containing Sh260,000 and my personal documents and threw them," said Otaalo, who together with his wife and son, watched helplessly as the attackers picked up the bag and escaped on a waiting motorcycle.

 Paul Chibayi was attacked by an armed gang which killed his 2-month-old baby at Ebululwe in Butere on October 20, 2023. Photo by Benjamin Sakwa/ STANDARD

He went on: "I later found myself in hospital after regaining consciousness. My hand had to be removed 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 but my family members buried the amputated hand," said Otaalo.

Their baby died while undergoing treatment at Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Eldoret. According to Otaalo, doctors were attempting to remove a bullet lodged in the baby's body when it died.

Otaalo's wife 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."

Botched investigations

The couple is reading malice in the manner in which police conducted the investigation with Otaalo claiming that his wife's phone which was 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 10.30 am, 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.

He said the rifles being used by the killer gang could be ones rented out by the police to the gang and in turn, they share the spoils.

At Mushitende village, the gang killed Francis Bulimo Mutende, aged 69. He met his untimely death on September 10 this year when he confronted the attackers at his homestead. They had come to steal his cows.

 A family display a portrait of their own who was killed while he rescuing his cows at Mutoma, Mushitende village in Butere on October 20, 2023. Photo by Benjamin Sakwa/ STANDARD

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

"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

She went on: "After the incident, we reported the matter but the security agencies abandoned us, and 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, 72, was hacked to death around 1 a.m. on October 18 this year. They had come to steal from a shop where he worked as a night guard.

According to his son, Patrick Osule, the attackers hacked his father with a sharp object in the head and stabbed him several times in the stomach. He died while receiving treatment at the Kakamega County Teaching and Referral Hospital.

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

"The gang members are well known to the police and those arrested, their family members are compelled to sell their pieces of land and use the money to bribe the police and secure the freedom of suspects and in turn, the suspects are never arraigned," said a village elder who sought anonymity

He claimed that whenever a criminal gang member is arrested, there is a police officer who usually visits the family of the suspect and asks them to sell a parcel of their land and secure the suspect's freedom.

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

"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, they launch retaliatory attacks against informers," he said.

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

"Some individuals in a white saloon car approached the school gate masquerading as police officers," said Lucas Shikhu, the school principal.

"The security guard opened the small gate, and two men emerged, seizing him. They subsequently transported him to a waiting car, where two other men stood guard. The vehicle then left in a huff."

For the last six weeks, a series of gang attacks have left at least seven people dead causing fear among residents.

Usually, the victims are either shot dead or butchered in a ritualistic manner. In most cases, nothing is usually stolen from the victims after the attacks.

Forty-Two Brothers

According to the locals, the sporadic attacks are being orchestrated by a gang calling itself 'Forty-Two Brothers' and '22 Sisters'. Whenever it has struck, the gang, whose members are said to be between 15 and 25 years old, leave behind a common calling card: bodies with tongues, genitals and eyes ripped out.

But Western Regional Commissioner Irungu Macharia, in a phone interview, said: "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.

He added: "I have asked my people to investigate whether the gang members are regrouping again so that we can take action against them. We will not allow them to harm our people."

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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