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Double tragedy as family lose four members over land dispute

By Brian Kisanji and Simon Oyeng' | August 16th 2020 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

Members of the public at the scene of crime where residents torched several houses of suspects who allegedly killed Ernest Ndege Opwondo. [Benjamin Sakwa/Standard]

A land dispute has ended tragically after the killing of four family members.

On Friday evening, three family members - a father, his son and nephew - were lynched by villagers who accused them of being behind the killing of another member of the family last week.

The three were suspected of sponsoring a gang that abducted and shot dead Ernest Opwondo, a secondary school teacher, in broad daylight.

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Opwondo, 54, was abducted at gunpoint from his home in Emasinga village, Navakholo Sub-county on August 5.

Earlier, the family said the gang arrived at around 9am on Wednesday, August 5,  and was heard asking the teacher about a family land dispute.

The thugs later dragged Opwondo out of the house at gunpoint into a waiting car before speeding off.

His body was later found at Ebwaliro village in Mumias East, about 70 kilometres away.

Witnesses said they saw the teacher jump from a moving vehicle and start running to one of the homes along the Ekero-Sabatia road.

The gang followed him into the homestead, broke into the house where he was hiding and shot him twice in the chest, killing him on the spot.

The body was moved to Kakamega County Teaching and Referral Hospital mortuary until Friday evening when it was brought back home for burial.

When the body arrived at the village at 4pm, mourners started chanting the name of Opwondo's father, Peter Opwondo, who they claimed was linked to his son's killing.

By then, Ndege, one of his sons, Calistus Werembe and a relative had locked themselves in the house fearing the angry mourners.

The mob then carried the slain teacher's casket to his father’s home. Witnesses said the chaos intensified when police, who were guarding the home, tried to repulse the crowd.

Isaac Okomba, a neighbour, said police were overwhelmed when they tried to protect the home from the crowd. The mob smoked out the three family members by setting a motorcycle on fire next to the house.

When the three relatives emerged from the house, they were killed by the mob, which then set the house on fire and later killed the family's three cows.

Two other houses of people suspected to have been involved in the teacher's killing were burnt last week.

Villagers said there had been a land dispute between the teacher and his father.

The dispute revolved around ownership of some 10 acres. It started when Ndege decided to sell part of his land. The decision was opposed by some of his sons.

Opwondo, the most vocal critic of his father's decision to sell the family land, went on to acquire a court order barring the sale.

Misu Mukanda, a village elder, said efforts by the elders to resolve the family dispute had failed.

“The issue has been there for a long time,” said Mukanda. 

More witnesses in Friday's killings blamed the police for not acting swiftly to prevent the violence.

A number of residents are now worried that there might be more retaliatory attacks.

Navakholo Sub-county police commander Jacob Chelimo condemned the lynching and promised to take action against those who participated in the Friday killings.

The police boss conceded that the villagers grew impatient as investigations into the teacher's killing unfolded.

“We condemn the lynching. It is wrong for some people to kill in the pretence of justice yet the police are still investigating the teacher's murder,” said Chelimo.

Opwondo was buried yesterday in a quick ceremony as police kept guard.


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