What you need to know:
- James Kipkirui was one and a half years old when he suspiciously died at Dow Children’s Home, run by American missionary turned paedophile Gregory Hayes Dow, in 2012.
- Mr Dow "secretly burying the kid's body without informing the police, securing a burial permit and a death certificate".
- Kipkirui’s body was first exhumed in May, 30, 2019 at Dow Children’s Home.
- On March 23, 2021, Bomet High Court directed the remains be exhumed and returned to Longisa County Referral Hospital mortuary for preservation.
“What is meant to go wrong will definitely go wrong …and usually at the worst time” – Murphy’s Law
Losing a child under unclear circumstances in the hands of a stranger, is a very painful experience for any parent.
Being overruled on the burial site, and watching the body lowered into a shallow grave at an orphanage kilometres away from home, your protests notwithstanding, is traumatising.
Seven years later, you stand by as police dig up the grave to exhume the remains for a DNA test; you only see bones (flesh having wasted away) as the parts are placed in a body bag, and taken to a morgue for preservation ahead of reburial. Now this takes a lot of nerve.
Devastation kicks in when 22 months later, you learn that instead of preserving the remains as ordered by the High Court, management of the State facility went ahead and disposed of it.
Worse still, you again have to watch the mass grave being dug, the remains exhumed for the second time, loaded into the boot of a car and returned to the mortuary. This is heart-wrenching.
That is what Ms Daisy Chelangat, a single mother of six – three sets of twins – has been subjected to in what sounds like a trailer out of a horror movie.
James Kipkirui was one and a half years old when he died at Dow Children’s Home, an orphanage that operated by the now disgraced American missionary turned paedophile Gregory Hayes Dow at Kapsiratet village in Boito, Konoin Constituency, Bomet County.
The child is said to have died in 2012, after it choked on food, but was not taken to hospital. Instead, the body was left in a room overnight and hurriedly buried at the orphanage the following day without informing the police and administrators, even as the parents protested.
Former Bomet Resident Judge Martin Muya granted exhumation orders sought by Directorate of Criminal Investigations through Mr Derrick Wawire, a prosecutor, on October, 11, 2018.
The DCI accused Mr Dow of "secretly burying the kid's body without informing the police, securing a burial permit and a death certificate from registrar of births and deaths,"
Justice Muya, through the orders given on March, 25, 2019, directed the police to preserve the exhumed remains in custody of the State pending report of death to the registrar of deaths and a burial permit granted to the family for re-burial.
The now disgraced Dow fled Kenya for the US to avoid arrest after children at the home found him defiling one of the girls under his care in 2017.
But following his arrest in 2019 in Philadelphia US, Mr Dow pleaded guilty to the charges on June 16, 2020, and was convicted on February 4, 2021 in the US to serve 188 months in jail.
United States District Judge Edward G. Smith in Lancaster County, Philadelphia also ordered Dow to pay Sh1.7 million (USD 16,000) in restitution for the crimes committed against the children in Kenya who were aged between 11 and 13 years.
Nine out of the 87 girls at the home had repeatedly been defiled by the American by the time he fled Kenya.
Kipkirui’s body was first exhumed in May, 30, 2019 at Dow Children’s Home where Dr Johansen Oduor, the Chief Government Pathologist, conducted an autopsy on the remains after exhumation in line with orders issued by former Bomet High Court Judge Martin Muya on March, 25, 2018 to facilitate a DNA test.
On Wednesday March 23, this year, Bomet High Court Judge Roselyne Korir directed the remains be exhumed and returned to Longisa County Referral Hospital mortuary for preservation following a consent entered by the county government and the family.
It followed an application by Ms Chelangat through an American-based human rights activist Ms Margaret Ruto to allow the family to bury the remains.
When the orders were granted, the family discovered that the body parts had been disposed of under Covid-19 rules despite an existing order for preservation.
It was then that they moved back to court and obtained exhumation orders following a clear case of negligence and defiance of court orders by administrators at the government mortuary.
That was the beginning of another agonising journey for the very needy family, to assume possession of the remains and give it a decent burial.
Overwhelmed by the tribulations, Ms Chelangat broke down on Friday evening as she watched grave diggers exhume and rummage through remains in a mass grave in search of the body bag containing that of her son.
Wipe tears away
“What sin have I committed? Why has nature conspired against me? I have gone through a lot in seeking to give my son a decent burial….” Ms Chelangat said.
Dressed in a blue striped dress, an orange headscarf concealing her uncombed hair, a blue checkered Maasai shuka wrapped around her shoulders and pink rubber slip-ons, Ms Chelangat did not bother to wipe the tears away from her cheeks.
“I have been through a lot. I don’t know whether I will ever bury the remains and live a normal life like other mothers do,” she said in a monologue as she watched the exercise that took slightly over an hour, continue.
The body bag was finally retrieved from the grave, clearly labelled and sealed as had been done by officers from the Directorate of Criminal Investigations.
Pacing back and forth, shifting hands from her waist, chin, neck and occasionally realigning the shuka, Ms Chelangat took several minutes to compose herself, before steps closer to the body bag by the graveside.
“I am so elated that the body has been found intact. It has been tormenting me as a mother. How and why the remains were buried is a different story altogether,” said Ms Chelangat.
Appearing energised with the turn of events, the mother who recently gave birth to twins, said the family will prepare to bury the remains within the next week and the matter behind them once and for all.
“Hoping that there would not be any further mishap, I am looking forward to interring the remains in the next couple of days. It has been 10 agonizing years which we want to put behind us,” said Ms Chelangat as she lowers her not very clean face mask revealing dry and cracked lips.
It is alleged that the remains were mistakenly buried on May, 19, 2020 following court orders on disposal of unclaimed bodies secured on April 19, by the Bomet County government.
“The remains were buried in respect to a court order obtained by the public health department to dispose of unclaimed bodies at Longisa County Referral Hospital Mortuary in respect to Covid-19 protocols set by the national government,” said Mr John Langat, the acting County Attorney.
Mr Langat said the mix up was regretted and that the county government was looking into how to assist the family bury the remains.
Earlier, there was drama when police and family arrived at the cemetery to find two attendants had dug up the grave following instructions from a public health officer.
Police declined to take charge of the scene as family demanded answers from the county on who gave the okay for the grave to be interfered with.
In a stand-off that took more than 20 minutes, it was finally agreed that since it was clear that the multiple remains had not been touched, the exhumation proceeds.
“This family has been through a lot in life. I wish the county government had stepped in to lend them a hand. The fact that due to sheer negligence, the county buried the remains at a mass grave despite the body bag clearly labelled as a crime exhibit is mind boggling,” said Ms Ruto.
The remains were returned to the mortuary for preservation as the family decides on the next move.
The parties are expected in court on April, 14 to confirm whether or not the burial was conducted, so the file can be closed.
And last Thursday, the family finally had the chance to inter the remains at their home in Kesogororet village of Kaplentundo Ward, Konoin Constituency, Bomet County.
“I will have a sound sleep after all these years, knowing that my child has rested at a rightful place,” said Ms Chelangat.
She broke down as prayers were offered during the funeral service. Being single and having no land of her own, Ms Chelangat was forced to bury her son at her parent’s home.
“We want to put all that we have gone behind us and move on,” said Ms Lucio Langat, James’ grandmother.
Villagers and relatives gathered at the home for a burial undertaken at dusk after clearance and securing of a burial permit delayed.
“No one can ever take away the pain of losing a child. It is not complete justice, but it will bring some kind of closure for the family now that they finally have their loved one at home,” said Ms Ruto.
With the family finally getting a semblance of justice and peace, the burial marked the final journey of a suspicious death, two exhumation and three burials.