With obvious misery lingering in his mildly teary eyes, hands on his cheek, and downcast face, heartbroken Stephen Mulinge speaks in a faint voice.
Mulinge talks haltingly about an arduous couple of months following the shattering discovery and burial of his daughter, Alvinah Mutheu.
From the sitting room, one can clearly see that Mulinge's home seems to have been barely occupied in recent days. The kitchenware is neatly in place, the floors spotlessly clean and the air quiet, despite the chaotic noises outside the house.
"We don't live here anymore, but we still pay rent. I just came to check the condition of the house," Mulinge says.
And perhaps, he says, the apartment his young family once called home may never feel like it again, the same way his family will never be whole again.
On June 11, Alvinah, 3, along with her friend and neighbour, four-year-old Henry Jacktone disappeared while playing outside the residential building where they lived with their families, just next to KMC Estate in Athi River.
But in a shocking turn of events that stunned the country, the decomposed bodies of the young children were discovered on July 1, in a car that the Athi River police officers had towed to the police station's yard in March, after an accident. The parents had earlier reported the disappearance of the children at the same police station.
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Months after the unsettling deaths and burials of Alvinah and Henry, their grieving and desperate parents have fled the haunting and burdensome memories that still hang over their homes, from where their young children vanished, never to return alive.
Mulinge says life will never be the same again for his family, with the unexplained death of his daughter leaving a lifelong scar on their once blissful lives.
“Alvinah’s death derailed us. We left everything behind after her demise. We have never returned to live here since we travelled for the burial in Machakos. We are still figuring out what to do,” Mulinge said during an interview from the apartment where the family used to live.
Mulinge adds that the tragedy plunged them into confusion. For now, he says, all they can do is while away their days in their upcountry home as they think about how to pick up the pieces, even though they do not know how to.
"I am deeply hurt but I have to pull myself together for the sake of our other child," said Mulinge’s wife, Catherine Musembi, via a phone interview from Machakos.
Catherine further said she opted to remain in Machakos with their older child, since bringing him back to the house in Athi River so soon could be traumatic for him.
A relative of Clinton Odhiambo and Fenny Aoko, the parents of Henry, who declined to give his name told The Standard that the loss had severely impacted the boy's parents.
“We are trying to help the family forget. We don’t want to keep bringing up the issue,” the close relative said, noting that Henry's death had absolutely devastated his parents.
Like Alvinah's parents, the family member said, the haunting memories of Henry's death have made his family move from the building where they lived.
He said Henry’s parents moved to another residence within Athi River after the incident.
What exacerbated their pain, the family member said, was the fact that the trail suddenly went cold. As both families revealed, the authorities who were handling the investigations, including Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) officers and officers from Athi River Police Station, went silent on the progress of the investigations.
But still, the affected parents want to know what happened to their children so they can get closure.
“At least if we get answers and know what happened we will brace ourselves and try to move on,” Mulinge says. "You just feel alone. We are still in darkness two months later. We don't even know where to begin.”
When the postmortem examination results were released, Chief Government Pathologist Johansen Oduor told the media they were inconclusive as the state of the bodies hindered a proper analysis. He said the cause of the children's deaths could not be determined following the damage caused by the decomposition of their remains. However, the pathologist also noted that the bodies did not exhibit obvious signs of physical injury.
"I just avoid thinking about it. The police said they would collaborate with a mobile phone company to pursue the identities of the individuals who called us asking for ransom after our children disappeared, but we have not heard anything. No one from the police station has bothered to talk to us ever since they gave us our child's body,” said Catherine.
DCI Head of investigations John Kariuki said yesterday the matter was still under investigation.
"What justice will come out of the media reporting the plight of the families? Will it bring the children back to life," the relative of Henry’s parents asked.