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How Garissa University student president saved lives before his death

By WILLIAM DEKKER | April 2nd 2016

That Thursday morning I’d woken up a little early to do final touches on the articles I was editing for the varsity student press before getting them published.

A few minutes after 5.00am I received a text from Steve, “brathe nikubaya…gunshots na explosions…me niko kwa wadrope tayari, mtuombee!” “Brother it is not looking good, gunshots and explosions... I’m already in the wardrobe, pray for us.”

For a moment it sounded like a belated prank, considering the date; just a few hours from April 1st. Steve was the Secretary General of the Student Union (GUCSO), the 2nd in command after the Chairperson (President of the union). He and his colleagues, a team of 10 student leaders including the Chairman, Laban had just left Moi University the previous day.

At that moment, I was serving in the University Student Governing Council, among other 12 colleagues. The team from Garissa had come to benchmark from us, the “Mother Association”; all in a bid to get ways of serving their colleagues better.

And we’d shared moments of laughter, confidence, photographs and millennial ‘selfies’. No one would have ever imagined tragedy was lurking; possibly the last time we were seeing the head of the students.

Now, less than six hours ago, Steve had texted, “we’ve arrived safely, thanks for your hospitality…we’ll plan for you to come over too and see our progress.” But during the time of attack, it was a different reality.

I called immediately and could hear the gunshots from the background. He asked me not to call again. We resorted to messaging all through to about 8am until it was very risky to communicate. He stayed there, sweating and frozen at the same time, hearing the horror unfold before him. He became second last to be taken off the building after the rescue operation was long over. He survived to tell the story of the bravest student leader in the century.

At the time of the attack, the man who had barely taken a rest from the 24 hour journey (Eldoret to Garissa), woke up on hearing the commotion. By the time the gunmen made an abrupt entry into the dormitory he stayed in, Laban Daniel Kumba decided to do what no man would have done at the time. He was ready to take them down at whatever cost.

Laban, pounced on one of the gunmen who’d run out of bullets. He wrestled the terrorist and kept a tight grip on him, allowing well over 20 students to escape and scamper for safety. The terrorist in turn stabbed him on the chest and head several times, killing him. He died a hero. And to date still a hero of his own stature.

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