At Nyeri High School, life and learning goes on. A beautiful structure, the Twiga Two dormitory stands proudly amongst the others.
Unbeknownst to the busy students milling in and out the building, a little cubicle inside, one that houses the school captain and three other prefects, used to house four bright young boys. Boys who would have potentially grown into fine young men.
Today, the cubicle had a fresh coat of paint, masking the claw marks of Eric Kiarie, Anthony “Karis” Kariuki, Paul Musyoki and Harrison Munge, as they desperately tried to escape their base turned a fiery prison.
When Moses Mwangi’s parents sent him off to Nyeri High School in May 1999, the only thing on their minds was their 16-year-old Form Three son making good grades. It never occurred to them that he would soon make news for heinous crimes.
And when the parents of Kiarie, Kariuki, Musyoki and Munge sent them to the school in May 1999, they knew their kids would return home come the holidays, in perfect health. The four were school prefects, responsible enough to balance studies and supervising their peers.
Three weeks into second term, all five parents were brought together by tragic circumstances beyond their control.
On the fateful day, a Tuesday in May 1999, a fire broke out in the cubicle in Twiga Two Dormitory, which housed roughly 200 students.
The cubicle housed prefects Kiarie, Kariuki, Musyoki and school captain Munge.
Prefects and power
On the night of May 23, 1999, as other students slept, Mwangi and other students allegedly sneaked out of school and went to a petrol station where they bought petrol.
He later left his cubicle armed with a jerry can of petrol and headed for Twiga Two dormitory. He locked the cubicle’s door, splashed petrol into it through a window and torched the room.
After the room burst into flames, fellow students, who had been woken up by screams, broke down the padlocked door and fought the fire.
Blogger, Akhy Mjanja was a student at Nyeri High School at the time of the arson attack. In his blog, akhymjanja.wordpress.com, he recalls that “soon as the door broke down, they all rushed out … a terrible, pitiful sight as they cried and screamed and tried to pull off burning clothes on their skin. We were stiff scared, we absolutely had no idea what to do or say; we were just screaming and issuing orders to everyone and no one in particular to assist them.”
“One of the victims, Karis, was the volleyball captain. He was roaming near the entrance utterly confused and obviously in shock. He asked us for volleyball, just so he could play one last time.”
“Munge was saying that his throat was dry and wanted some drinking water. He mentioned how hot his body felt and said he wanted someone to pour cold water on him…no one had the guts or even mind to do so.”
Guilty as charged
Two weeks later, Kiarie, Kariuki, Musyoki and Munge succumbed to their extensive burn wounds. What had hitherto been an arson case turned into a murder investigation.
Several days after the arson attack, police took 16 students for questioning. Thirteen were later set free.
The evidence of Mwangi’s roommate, the petrol attendant who sold him petrol and another student who saw Mwangi with the jerrycan of petrol, were sufficient for Judge Vitalis Juma to declare Mwangi guilty.
“The four students died a very painful and horrible death,” Judge Juma ruled, after eight months’ trial. “The only sentence for murder is death by hanging, but even if that sentence was to be passed on you, it would not be as painful as the pain you have inflicted on the four innocent students and their parents.”
When KTN’s Dennis Onsarigo spoke with Mwangi in 2011 at Naivasha Maximum Prison, he was calm and collected. The 11 years he had done had, it seemed, made him to come to terms with his situation.
He maintained his innocence, saying, “I never participated in the saga. I’ve never ever killed … leave alone being born a killer.”
Gone but not forgotten
Plenty of time has elapsed, 19 years, to be exact. But there are things that time cannot erase. Like the high hopes that the families of Kiarie, Kariuki, Musyoki and Munge had. Like the laughter, idiosyncrasies, jokes, phrases, smiles and joys that sometimes come to mind and then go to another time and space.
Kiarie, Kariuki, Musyoki and Munge are not statistics. They are souls that are near and dear. Souls that will always be loved and cherished.