Wilson Mwangi

Wilson Mwangi was abducted on June 27, 2021 at Castle trading centre in Laikipia.

| Joseph Kanyi | Nation Media Group

“The hardest part is not knowing is my son dead or alive.”

What you need to know:

  • For Helen Warimu, the hardest part has been searching for her lost son among the decomposed bodies of unidentified men.
  • Because of the condition of the bodies, the families could not tell whether any of the men were related to them.

Helen Warimu doesn’t know where his son is. Wilson Mwangi, a 26-year-old boda boda rider, was among 15 people abducted in the Mt Kenya region over the last three months. 

Mwangi was grabbed on the evening of June 27 in Naromoru.

“The hardest part is not knowing where my son is. 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 Wairimu says.

Like Mwangi’s family, relatives of the missing men have spent weeks traversing Central Kenya and beyond searching for their loved ones in vain.

With no ransom demanded and police assistance not forthcoming, the families are on their own to figure out who took their relatives, 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 searched in hospitals and mortuaries.

They are spent financially, physically and emotionally and are now almost drained.

For Ms Wairimu, the hardest part was having to search among the decomposed bodies of unidentified men who were tortured and dumped in the 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 they really suffered painful deaths,” she said in an interview with the Nation.

But even after that episode, Ms Wairimu and three other families who travelled from Nyeri to the Garissa Hospital mortuary are still not sure whether their relatives were among the dead.

Implicated in the abductions

Because of the condition of the bodies, the families could not tell whether any of the men were related to them.

“They were mostly bones and the flesh was peeling off their faces. There is no possible way to physically identify those people from their appearance,” Ms Wairimu said.

The families were told to seek DNA analyses on the bodies in a bid to identify them but even that is too much a task.

Coming from mostly poor backgrounds, the families say they cannot afford to pay for DNA tests. Others choose to hold 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 having to assure my daughter that her father will come home soon but I have to hold onto that hope for both of us,” Phoebe Muthoni said.

Her husband Isaac Mwangi was abducted by the same gang that took Wilson Mwangi on June 27.

The families have accused authorities of complacency in investigating the abductions and in the 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, filing a habeas corpus application at the High Court in Nyeri.

They want three law enforcement agencies compelled to produce the missing men, dead or alive.

Holding the missing men

KWS, the National Police Service, through Inspector-General Hilary Mutyambai, and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) have been listed in the application.

The case was filed by the families of Isaac Mwangi, 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.

This is even as the High Court granted the DCI and IG Mutyambai 21 more days to respond to the petition.

KWS, listed as the first respondent, has denied holding the missing men.

In the agency’s response to the case, KWS Corporation Secretary Doreen Mutung’a says officers did not conduct any operation in the area during the period the men were reported missing, between June 27 and 30, or even in the days before and after.

Ms Mutung’a also says the agency’s officers did not arrest the missing men and so they are not in their custody.

Even so, she says, suspects arrested by KWS for committing wildlife-related offences are normally 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 in court as required by law,” he said.

Desperate plea to captors

An application by Mr Karimi’s wife, Joan Wangui, shows that he was abducted the same way as the other victims at the Naromoru bus stage by unknown people.

In her July 22 affidavit, she says that on the day her husband disappeared, they had spoken on the phone at 10am.

Later that evening, she could not reach him and she decided to travel to Naromoru from her home in Kirinyaga to look for him.

Before his disappearance, he worked as a vegetable broker in Naromoru.

“While at the bus stage, he was handcuffed and taken away by a motor vehicle that had no number plates, actions which were carried out in a manner conducted in state operations,” she says in the document.

Ms Wangui said her discussions with lorry operators that day also revealed that another colleague of Mr Karimi’s, whom the Nation has since identified as John Mwiti, had also been allegedly kidnapped in a similar manner on June 26.

Mr Mwiti had reportedly introduced her husband to the vegetable business.

Having exhausted all known channels in search of their relatives, the families now only have hope. They have appealed to their captors to return 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,” said Moses Mwirigi, the father of Peterson Mutwiri.

Mr Mutwiri was abducted on July 2 in Muriri, Meru County.

Additional reporting by Mercy Mwende