Pain of families with missing kin as more bodies located in Yala


Nicholas Okero Okite at River Yala in Gem, Siaya County, where bodies of unknown people are dumped in sacks. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

The riddle surrounding bodies retrieved from River Yala in Siaya County has deepened after residents discovered two more bodies even as the police negated glaring statistics.

The fresh discovery, alongside statistics from the hospital mortuary which indicates that 19 bodies have been retrieved from the river since last October, disprove the claim by police that the numbers date back to two years ago.

The failure by the police to make even a feeble attempt to retrieve the two bodies discovered yesterday only adds to the questions being raised about the mystery surrounding the deaths. The developments came as families with missing kin trooped to the mortuary to confirm if their relatives were among those whose bodies had been found.

It was a bittersweet moment for some, who still hold onto hope that their kin might still be alive after they failed to find them among the retrieved bodies.

Ismael Okumu is among those who travelled to the mortuary in search for his missing brother. He had travelled from Mumias.

Since last August, Okumu’s family has not known peace and has visited several mortuaries in vain.

“My brother was abducted by people in two vehicles in Kakamega last year. We have never been able to trace him,” he said.

Felix Kiplagat, who travelled from Bomet, claimed that his brother was also abducted and had travelled to the morgue.

“My brother was a businessman in Nairobi and also disappeared mysteriously around Nakuru. We have visited several mortuaries but are yet to find him,” said Kiplagat.

An official at the mortuary who asked not to be named claimed that other families, too, have made enquiries about their missing kin.

At River Yala, however, two bodies discovered by residents were yet to be retrieved. 

There was no sign of police officers at the scene while locals, too, were going on with their daily activities, raising questions on the apathy by officialdom.

One of the bodies washed up was badly decomposed, signalling that it might have been abandoned for months.

A few metres from the body was yet another one which was floating and stuck between two rocks. It appears to be a fresh incident since the clothes were still visible.

Fredrick Odhiambo, a local activist, claimed that they discovered the bodies yesterday morning.

“We are wondering why police officers are not even bothered. They have not done anything to investigate the deaths,” said Odhiambo.

The two bodies now bring the total number of retrieved from the river to 21. Records at the mortuary indicate that four bodies have been retrieved this year.

According to a document seen by The Standard, 21 bodies have been listed as unknown at the Yala Sub-County Hospital Mortuary. One of them was a victim of mob justice while another was found dumped at Wagai market. The remaining 19 were retrieved from Yala river.

According to Medical Superintendent Dr Bruno Okal, unclaimed bodies that have stayed at the facility for more than three months are usually buried.

This could explain why the bodies only date back to October 2, 2020.

Yesterday, however, the police denied claims that the bodies had been retrieved from last October.

In a press release, police spokesman Bruno Shioso said the bodies had accumulated over the last two years.

A team of investigators has been dispatched to hasten the identification of bodies retrieved from River Yala.

The team includes special forensics experts from the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI), who will look into the matter that has attracted public attention as pressure mounts on the police to resolve the mystery behind the deaths.

The police statement, however, raises questions as to why it took two years to probe the deaths and identify the victims.

In the last two days, there has been a public uproar over the dumpings in River Yala and its tributary, River Edzawa, in Gem Sub-County.

A number of residents recounted to The Standard their experiences with the river, with some claiming that hardly a week passes before they spot a body.

According to witnesses, the bodies that have been retrieved are stashed in gunny sacks and most have deep cuts.

Despite the police statement, Nicholas Okite Okero, who has been retrieving bodies in River Yala for the past 26 years, claims he has recovered over 30 bodies from the river since last August.

Some of the bodies were decomposing and stuffed in sacks.

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