Questions as Trans-Nzoia school now denies ethanol killed student Steve Rodgers

The parents of Steve Rodgers (insert) David Namiti and Susan Mong'ena during an interview on September 12, 2023.

In the sleepy Sokomoko village of Kapomboi, Kwanza Sub-county, Trans Nzoia County, the family of David Namiti and his wife Susan Mong’ena is struggling to come to terms with the sudden death of their son— a form four candidate at Kapsitwet Secondary School.

The September 10 death of Steve Rodgers, 17, currently under investigation by police, has left the family with more questions than answers, with the school and the hospital issuing contradictory reports.

Detectives are trying to piece together the chronology of events on the fateful Sunday, amid fears of foul play.

On the fateful Sunday, Susan received a distress call from Kapsitwet police base at 4pm. The caller asked her to go to the police post to pick up her son.

As a concerned parent, she rushed there only to find the student unconscious, with pale eyes.

She told the Nation that she was instructed to take the patient to hospital, and proceeded to rush him to Kitale County Hospital where he was immediately admitted.

According to the parent, the police officer told her to “ask my son what he had taken but my son could not respond; he was not talking.”

The distressed mother said her second born died on Sunday night while receiving medical attention at the facility. 

Kapsitwet Secondary School in Trans Nzoia where Steve Rodgers was a student.

Photo credit: Evans Jaola | Nation Media Group

It is the emerging contradictory reports that have resulted in mystery on the student’s death, with a post-mortem expected later this week.

Preliminary reports from the hospital and police records indicate that the student died after consuming ethanol within the school precincts.

The police report reads in part: "Today, 11/09/2023, at around 0100 hrs, the student passed away while undergoing treatment. According to the clinical officer at the facility, the deceased had allegedly taken ethanol in school.”

It has also emerged that another student was treated at Kitale County Referral Hospital with similar complications.

"The doctor at the facility said that my son died of poison and that is all I know. I am very disappointed because even the school management has not explained to me what happened and how my son accessed ethanol at school," she said.

Earlier, school principal Joan Kibet had told the Nation that the students were suspected to have taken ethanol, and that they were investigating the matter.

"I cannot comment on the matter since it has been taken up by officials from relevant agencies. But I can confirm we have lost the student," she said on phone.

However, the school has since denied the ethanol angle, claiming that the laboratory chemical was not within reach of students on the weekend.

On Wednesday, the Nation established that the second student had recovered and was at home awaiting disciplinary action in school.

The school claims police were called to pick up the two students on Saturday afternoon after they became rowdy and attacked a teacher and one of their colleagues. They were locked up in cells at the police station.

A police report indicated that the deceased had assaulted a teacher and a colleague before he was handed over to his parents to seek treatment at the police station.

Trans Nzoia County Criminal Investigations Officer Francis Kihara confirmed that detectives visited the school to record statements from persons of interest. He said detectives had made reasonable leads into the matter.

"We have zeroed in on how the students got ethanol and the events that led to the death. Those who will be liable will be prosecuted after investigations," said Mr Kihara.

A multi-agency team drawn from the Ministry of Education, Teachers Service Commission, and Directorate of Criminal Investigations on Tuesday visited the school as investigations continued.

The school’s Board of Management Chairman Robert Kibii said there were no laboratory classes on the weekend, and that all laboratory chemicals were accounted for.

"As a school, we are sorry about what has happened to our students. However, the student did not take ethanol at school unless it was a drink that came from outside the school compound. But we have left it to the investigators to do their work," he said.

The BOM chairman claimed the deceased and his surviving colleague appeared drunk and rowdy on Saturday evening.

"We wonder what the students could have taken,” he said, describing the deceased as a very disciplined student.

“The two students were handed over to police that evening where they spent the night at Kapsitwet police base," he revealed.

The deceased’s family has called for investigations into the death of their son whom they also describe as “disciplined”.

The sudden death of Rodgers, who dreamed to be a lawyer one day, has left his village in shock. His parents suspect foul play in the death.

"I do not agree with what the school management has told us because if my son was unconscious, why didn't they take him to the hospital instead of locking him up in a police cell?” his mother said.

"I took my son to hospital when he was very weak and he succumbed on Sunday night while receiving treatment.”

His father said it has been hard for the family to come to terms with the loss.

"All we want is for the government to investigate the events that led to the death of our son. We are told the students had a laboratory lesson on Friday and maybe that is when they accessed the killer chemical," said Mr Namiti.

The school has called for patience among parents to allow time for investigations.

"We know it is a big loss for the family, but let's not speculate and wait for the multiagency investigations team’s report," Mr Kibii told the Nation.

Local leaders and human rights activists have called for an independent investigation into the conduct of the school and police when the students were in cells.

Mr Bonface Wanyoike, an official at Justice and Peace Centre, said the deceased comes from a poor background, worrying that the family may not get justice.