A day after local media reported on bodies dumped in River Yala, families who have missing relatives have started flocking the Yala Sub-County Hospital in Siaya County in the hope of identifying their loved ones, as police sharply contradicted the hospital on the number of bodies so far retrieved.
In a statement on Wednesday, the National Police Service put the total number of bodies retrieved from the river in the past two years at 19, a stark contradiction to the hospital management’s figure of 21 bodies, which it said were currently in its mortuary, and were retrieved from River Yala in the past three months.
The notorious points along the river where most bodies are found are Ndhawa Bridge and Ndanu falls and forest. The river drains into Lake Victoria, the biggest fresh water lake on the continent.
On Wednesday, the NPS dispatched a special forensic investigations team to Yala to speed up the identification of the bodies.
In a statement, Mr Bruno Shioso, the police spokesperson, said the team from the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) headquarters was dispatched to the river and the Yala hospital for further investigations.
Despite repeated appeals to the public, Mr Shioso claimed, no one had so far come forward to claim the bodies.
By Wednesday, however, some families with missing relatives had visited the hospital.
Some of the bodies had deep cuts, others had ropes tied around their necks or hands, while others were blindfolded.
The Sub-County Hospital medical superintendent, Dr Bruno Okal, said on Wednesday that 20 of the bodies are male, with one female, and that preliminary investigations revealed that they drowned.
“The bodies collected drowned. However, police will give further information concerning the cause of death after the post-mortem … We cannot, however, immediately establish the age, which is subject to police investigations. However, from the facial assessment, they are adults,” he explained.
He said the families had been visiting the hospital, but they were being referred to Yala Police Station where the claims are lodged.
He added: “Once a body is retrieved from the river, anyone claiming it must go through police for clearance, according to the law. Only they can investigate and authorise any claim.”
He, however, denied claims that there was a mass grave where the hospital disposed of the bodies, saying all the 21 were retrieved in the past three months.
“The law allows us to dispose of bodies after 90 days. The bodies in our facility were retrieved in the last three months. Therefore, reports that there is a mass grave somewhere is neither here nor there,” he said.
The hospital’s account was totally different from the NPS report, with Mr Shioso stating that the bodies had been retrieved from the river over two years.
"This number presents a cumulative body count over two years contrary to media reports insinuating all the incidences were a recent occurrence," said Mr Shioso in the official police statement on the matter.
Over 20 bodies
Gem Sub-County Commander Charles Chacha had also earlier stated that more than 20 bodies had been retrieved from the river over the past one year, from January 2021.
Mr Chacha confirmed that the bodies were retrieved from Ndanu Falls and River Yala, some with signs of torture, others stashed in gunny bags.
Mr Nicholas Okero, a resident and diver who has been helping police to retrieve bodies from the river said some of the bodies were packed neatly in sacks that are sewn.
“Every time the bodies are spotted, the police alert me and I rush to help in retrieving them,” said Mr Okero, who is paid for the work.
The special crimes team dispatched from Nairobi comes a few months after another team from the DCI was appointed and tasked with investigations into the case.
According to police, no one around Yala has claimed the bodies, raising questions on the origin of the bodies.
Mr Chacha stated that the victims might have drowned or might have been killed by criminals and their bodies swept from as far away as Uasin Gishu County. Or they could be from anywhere in the country, and dumped in the river, he said.
No missing person’s report
He said his office had not received any missing person’s report from Yala, and he called on relatives of missing persons to go and check the bodies, saying that could help in solving many cases.
He stated that upon receiving the bodies, police usually circulate the information internally to help trace the families or relatives of the deceased.
Siaya County Police Commander Michael Muchiri said police would establish a permanent checkpoint at the Yala Bridge to stop the dumping of the bodies there.
“It is a fact that bodies have been retrieved, and together with other stake-holders, we shall bring this (dumping of bodies) to an end,” he said.