State urged to speed up probe into deadly Legio Maria clash

Legio Maria faithfuls sing after a requiem mass of some of their church members who were killed during violent confrontations with police at Got Kwer shrine in September.

Photo credit: Ian Byron | Nation Media Group

The Legio Maria faction with its headquarters at Got Kwer shrines in Migori County has called on the government to fast track investigations into last month’s violence that left eight people dead during an annual pilgrimage.

Led by Pope Lawrence Kalul and Cardinal Chamalengo Ong’aw, the leaders have piled pressure on Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i and the Director of Criminal Investigations George Kinoti to probe the matter and serve justice to families whose kin perished in the violent clashes.

Four of the slain church members were buried in their homes in Homa Bay and Siaya on Wednesday and are set to be incarnated into sainthood.

Speaking at a requiem mass conducted Tuesday evening for the four, who were among eight people who died during the violent confrontations with police at the shrine, Pope Kalul maintained that the adherents “were casualties of brutality meted by police acting on instructions of a rival group who stormed the headquarters.”

“We demand a probe into the heinous act committed by police under instructions from a rival group who has constantly engaged the church in leadership wrangles. We cannot withstand perennial assaults and deaths in full glare of law enforcers tasked with protecting citizens,” Pope Kalul said.

Cardinal Ong’a maintained that police deliberately opened fire, killing five Legio Maria faithful on the spot, while three others succumbed to gunshot wounds while being rushed to hospital.

 “The Legio Maria Church is a law abiding church and we are appealing to the government to speed up investigations over the killings.” He said

In an emotional ceremony, the bereaved families also tasked the government to carry out thorough investigations and serve justice to their slain persons’ kin.

 “It pains that my husband left for prayers being a church deacon but ended up dead. I leave it to God if the government will not serve justice,” said Mrs Jacinta Omollo, a widow of one of the victims.

Although there have been casualties in previous confrontations at the shrine, the September 14 violent confrontation was the ugliest of the incidents witnessed since in the church’s wrangles.

 The church has been rocked by in leadership wrangles for several years, resulting in splinter groups, each with a Pope. The rival popes Raphael Adika and Lawrence Ochieng Kalul have each been pulling ends, with efforts to reconcile their followers hitting a snag twice.

Mid-last month, chaos erupted when Mr Adika flanked by armed security officers forced his way to the shrine at Got Kwer in Migori, where the tomb bearing the remains of Melkio Ondeto, the church founder is.

Mr Adika and his followers received a hostile reception by followers of the church’s splinter group who pelted his convoy with stones and burnt one of the cars in the entourage to a shell. This left several people injured, forcing police to intervene.

The long protracted antagonism became pronounced in 1990s after the death of the church's founder Melkio Ondetto resulting in the emergence of two splinter groups.