Diana Atamba wept uncontrollably as she tried to come to terms with the death of her son who was among 14 children killed in a stampede at Kakamega Primary School on Monday.
"The only inheritance my late husband left me with after he succumbed to throat cancer in 2011 was my son, Fidel Kumbuti. He is now no more. I feel dejected and wish the earth would open up and swallow me.
"The pain is too much to bear. He was the exact replica of his father. Seeing him was like seeing my late husband. The two are now no more," she mourned yesterday.
Fidel was in Standard Five.
"As usual, I said a word of prayer for him before he left the house in the morning. Little did I know it was our last prayer. I have lost the jewel of my heart," Atamba said amid sobs.
The pain of parents was palpable as they gathered at the Kakamega Referral Hospital to identify their children's bodies.
Teachers and relatives of the dead pupils joined the parents in mourning, with police officers having a rough time keeping order.
At least seven people fainted upon seeing the lifeless bodies of the learners. They were assisted by volunteers from St John’s Ambulance and counsellors from Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology.
Atamba said her husband, Justus Shikhuyu, died when Fidel was two. "Death has robbed me of him. I was taking good care of him so that his father's generation could continue. It is so painful to lose your one and only son."
Fidel's aunt, Nancy Shikhuyu, could be heard screaming and appealing to the medics at the referral hospital to bring their child back to life.
“You are the only precious gift left by my late brother. Fidel, you can’t die like that. We want you back to life as we don’t want to lose my brother’s generation. Doctors, please help us bring him back to life!” she wailed.
When The Standard visited another parent, Pamela Kageya, at her home in Maraba estate, she momentarily forgot that her daughter, Vanessa, had died when she called out and asked her to get the family album.
"She was barely a month old at the school but Vanessa had promised to get 457 marks so that she could appear on television. Little did we know we would appear on TV because of her death,” said Ms Kageya.
The mother of three recalled good times with her daughter. "She even promised to build us a big house in future and many times she would counsel me whenever I looked sad.”
Kageya said her nine-year-old daughter was afraid she would develop ulcers if she was not of good cheer.
On the fateful evening, she had been waiting for her daughter in the company of her sister at a beauty salon opposite Kakamega County Government headquarters.
"I had a strange feeling when I saw ambulances speeding towards the county referral hospital. Little did I know my daughter was long dead,” she said.
A pupil at the school broke the sad news to her. “She came crying and told me Vanessa had been rushed to the hospital and that she wanted me to go and see her urgently.”
Kageya found Vanessa and six other pupils lying on the floor of the casualty ward, unattended. “I hugged my daughter, called her name and inspected her body but she did not respond."
Even after the bodies were taken to the mortuary, Kageya could not believe that Vanessa was dead. When she returned to the morgue yesterday, the girl's body was stiff.
"I had not seen any marks on her body but in the morning I saw a cut on the neck,” the mother said.
Vanessa's father, Dan Mbaja, recalled walking his daughter to school on Monday morning. “We trekked from Maraba to the school gate, about 2.5km away, as we discussed many issues related to school work."
He added: "I did not know that after bidding Vanessa goodbye on Monday, it would be the last time I would see her alive."
Mr Mbaja wondered why the school had failed to guarantee the pupils' safety. “We entrust them with our children,” he said, adding that he was yet to come to terms with his daughter's death.
Another parent, Juliet Wishienga was distraught. She fainted upon learning that her last born, Judy Nakhumicha, who was three weeks-old at the school, was among the dead pupils.
Ms Wishienga berated herself for granting her nine-year-old daughter’s wish to join the institution when schools re-opened instead of sending her to boarding school to join her elder sister.
"I bid my daughter goodbye as usual at 6.20 am on Monday and agreed to meet in the evening. I received news that pupils of Kakamega Primary had been involved in an accident. I ran to the school but I could not trace her, forcing me to rush to the referral hospital,” she said.
She added: “I lost it when I saw her lifeless body on the floor. When I gained consciousness, they told me my daughter was alive but it was a lie. I got off the hospital bed and went to the mortuary where I confirmed my worst fears that my daughter was no more.”
Ibrahim Kiverenge’s first-born daughter, Nailah Kiverenge, aged 10, was among the dead pupils.
"Every day when she wakes up, Nailah always bids me goodbye before going to school. But on this day she just woke up and went to school. She did not talk to anyone. At 5 pm, her mother was informed of the accident and I went to school. I did not find her there or at the hospital,” said Mr Kiverenge.
He said at around 8 pm, he followed ambulances ferrying the children's bodies to the mortuary where he found his daughter's lifeless body, and with that many dreams were killed.