“The hardest part is not knowing where my son is. Or if he is dead or alive. If I was looking at his grave today, I probably would have already made peace with it. But now I cannot have peace,” Ms Helen Warimu says.
Her son Wilson Mwangi is among 15 people who were abducted around Mt Kenya region over the past three months. The 26-year-old boda boda rider was abducted on the evening of June 27, 2021 in Naromoru town.
Like Mr Mwangi’s family, relatives of the missing men have spent weeks traversing Central Kenya and beyond searching for their kin in vain.
No ransom demands
With no ransom demands and police assistance not forthcoming, the families have been left to figure out on their own who took their loved ones, where they might be and why they were taken in the first place.
They have knocked on all government doors known to them, called in all favours and even rummaged through hospitals and mortuaries trying to find their kin.
They are drained financially, physically and emotionally.
For Ms Wairimu, the hardest part was having to turn over decomposed bodies of unidentified men who were tortured and dumped into River Tana in Garissa County.
“That was the scariest and most gruesome experience I have ever encountered. Those men were tortured badly. It is evident that theirs were very painful deaths,” she said.
But even after having to search among 11 badly decomposed bodies, Ms Wairimu and three other families who travelled from Nyeri to Garissa Hospital mortuary still do not know if their kin were among the dead.
The bodies were badly decomposed and the families could not tell if any of the men were related to them.
“They were mostly bones and the flesh was peeling off their faces. There is no way we could possibly have identified those people from their appearance,” Ms Wairimu told the Nation.
The families were advised to have the remains subjected to DNA analysis, but they say that is too heavy a task for them.
Most say they cannot afford to pay for the process and are clinging onto hope that their loved ones will return home alive.
“I believe my husband is still alive and that he will come back to us. It is difficult to assure my daughter that her father will come home soon but I have to hold onto that hope for the both of us,” Ms Phoebe Muthoni says.
Her husband Isaac Mwangi was also abducted by the same gang that took Mr Wilson Mwangi on June 27.
The families of the missing men have accused authorities of complacency in investigating the abductions and search for their loved ones. They believe the abductions were perpetrated by a government agency.
The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) has been implicated in the abductions.
Four of the families have sought the intervention of the judiciary by filing a habeas corpus application at the High Court in Nyeri.
The application seeks to have three law enforcement agencies compelled to produce the missing men, dead or alive.
KWS, the National Police Service (NPS) through the Inspector General Hillary Mutyambai and Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) have been listed in the application.
The application was filed by the families of Mr Isaac Mwangi, Mr Wilson Mwangi, and brothers Samuel Ngacha and Bernard Wanjohi.
Last week, Justice Florence Muchemi allowed the family of Elijah Karimi to be enjoined in the suit.
The High Court granted the DCI and the IG 21 more days to respond to the petition.
KWS, which is listed as the first respondent in its reply, has since denied holding the missing men in custody.
In a replying affidavit, KWS said its officers did not conduct any operation in the two counties during the period the men were reported missing.
The affidavit sworn by KWS Corporation Secretary Doreen Mutung’a was presented before the High Court.
According to Ms Mutung’a, KWS officers did not conduct any operation in the said counties in the period between June 27 and 30, or even the dates before and after the men were reported missing.
Ms Mutung’a further says the state security agency’s officers, who are tasked with protection of wildlife, did not arrest the missing men and so they are not in their custody.
She added that suspects who are arrested by KWS for committing a wildlife-related offences are immediately booked at the nearest police station.
“If at all the persons were in the custody of KWS, then we would have already arraigned them as required by law,” said the KWS representative.
In her affidavit, Ms Mutung’a promises that in case of any arising issues, KWS would compel its officers to record a police statement on the recent kidnappings.
An application by Mr Karimi’s wife, Ms Joan Wangui, shows that he was abducted in the same manner as the other victims at the Narumoru bus stage by unknown people.
In her affidavit dated July 22, she says that on the day her husband disappeared, they had spoken on phone at 10am.
Later that evening, she could not reach him and she decided to travel to Naromoru from Kirinyaga, where she lives, to look for her husband.
Her husband had been working as a vegetable broker in Naromoru until his disappearance.
“While at the bus stage, he was handcuffed and taken away in a motor vehicle that had no number plates, in a manner that had all the hallmarks of a state operation,” she said in the document.
Ms Wangui said her discussions with lorry operators that day revealed that another colleague of Mr Karimi, who the Nation has since identified as Mr John Mwiti, had also been allegedly kidnapped in a similar manner on June 26.
Mr Mwiti had reportedly introduced her husband to the vegetable brokerage business.
Having exhausted all known channels in search of their kin, the families now only have hope to cling onto and an appeal to their captors to let go of their loved ones.
“It hurts to be kept in the dark. If he did something wrong tell me or take him to court. If it is money you want, tell me how much and I will look for it. I just want to know where my son is,” Mr Moses Mwirigi, the father of Mr Peterson Mutwiri, says.
Mr Mutwiri was abducted on July 2, 2021 in Muriri, Meru County.