Families troop to Yala morgue as two bodies identified

Felix Ruto, a Bomet resident and Ismael Okumu from Mumias at Yalla sub county hospital mortuary where they had come to identify bodies retrieved from River Yala. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

Distraught families whose relatives have been missing yesterday started identifying bodies retrieved from River Yala.

This, however, comes as police said some of the victims could be from far-flung areas.

Meshack Chepkwony from Kipkelion in Kericho County is among those who identified the remains of his brother who disappeared in Nairobi on December 3. A distressed Chepkwony said his brother Philemon Cheruiyot operated businesses, including a supermarket, and lived in Embakasi.

Efforts by the family to trace Cheruiyot after he disappeared were futile. Chepkwony said when the family saw media reports on Tuesday that some unidentified bodies were lying in a mortuary in Yala they resorted to checking if Cheruiyot was among them. “I went with friends to Yala and to our shock we found his remains. The body was in bad shape and his face was disfigured. It seems my brother may have been strangled to death,” Chepkwony told The Standard on the phone.

The mortuary records, he said, showed the body was taken there on December 4, a day after he disappeared. Chepkwony said Cheruiyot, a father of six, could have been killed elsewhere and his body dumped in the river. “We want justice for my brother,” he said. Chepkwony recorded a statement with the police and his brother's body is still at the mortuary. He said his brother had never crossed swords with the police or differed with anyone, to his knowledge.

A second family whose relative disappeared along the Nairobi-Nakuru highway in November is also said to have identified his body at the Yala mortuary. The man’s car was found near Gilgil in December. The man was said to have been in the company of three other people who also disappeared.

The identification of the bodies and the revelation that some of them were of Somali origin could mean the majority of the bodies thrown into the Yala River are of people who may have been killed as far as Nairobi. Siaya Health Executive Dismas Wakla confirmed Cheruiyot’s family turned up at the Yala Sub-County morgue to look for his body.

“The hospital has referred them to Yala Police Station for processing of their claim. In the meantime, all the 21 unclaimed bodies are still at the morgue. The legal custody of these bodies is with the police and the morgue is only holding them for preservation,” Wakla said. A document seen by The Standard shows 21 bodies were 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 River Yala and its tributary, River Edzawa, in Gem Sub-County.

A number of families with missing relatives have been trooping to the morgue since Wednesday to check if their relatives are among the dead. Wakla, in a statement, said all the 21 bodies were taken to the morgue by the police.

Gem Deputy County Commissioner Mosero Chacha yesterday declined to give details on the current situation, but he said the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) has taken over the case. “The matter is now in the hands of investigative authorities. The issue has now been taken over by the DCI and I do not want to make any comments on it,” he told The Standard.

He, however, confirmed that two more bodies discovered on Wednesday at the river had been retrieved. The identification of Cheruiyot’s remains by his family gave credence to locals' assertion that the victims were not from the area.

Last week, the body of a man of Somali origin was retrieved from the river. According to divers, his head had a gaping hole as well as what appeared to be a deep cut. Like with the other bodies that have been retrieved from the river, his body was stashed in a gunny bag.

Barely a week passes before a body is retrieved from the river and its tributary that cuts across Ulumbi and Marenyo villages. Some of the bodies are found with deep cuts, others with ropes tied around their necks and stashed in sacks. Some of the victims have their fingers severed or burnt with what authorities believe to be acid to erase their identity. Resident Edwin Nyawade, 70, said, “We are wondering where they are from. They are not from our village and we have never seen any of them.” A team of experts has been dispatched for special forensic investigations to speed up the identification of the bodies.

Nicholas Okero, a diver who has been helping the police, said he has retrieved more than 30 bodies since August last year. The National Police Service has, however, denied the bodies had been retrieved in the last six months and insisted the bodies had accumulated over the last two years. On Wednesday, records at the mortuary indicated that four bodies have been retrieved this year alone. Medical Superintendent Dr Bruno Okal said unclaimed bodies that stay for more than three months are buried.

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River Yala