Living with the loss of 22 relatives

Villager watch as dead bodies of unidentified man lie on the ground at the scene where 27 people were killed by members of the public after clashing with the outlawed Mungiki sect in Nyeri,central Kenya, April 21, 2009. Members of an outlawed criminal gang killed at least 27 people in an overnight attack on a central Kenyan village which planned to expel its members from their midst, police said on Tuesday. Photo/REUTERS

Survivors of the Mathira massacre on Wednesday recounted their lucky escape from the murderous gang. For Patrick Muriuki Murimi, 26, a casual tea picker from Kiagumara village, Nyeri East District in Kenya's Central province where 18 residents were hacked to death on Monday night, the day is one he would like to forget fast.

The Nation team met him on the path leading to the home of Mama Esther Wangui Mathenge, where the killings started. He was limping. But he escaped the massacre that left his young brother, 22-year-old Samuel Maina Murimi dead. He also lost 12 cousins.

On Monday night at around 10 o’clock, a vigilante group from neighbouring Kirinyaga District woke him up, ordering Mr Murimi to get out of the house and help fight a “bad group. They told me to get out of the house with all my weapons.”

Village to village

He said the youths moved from house to house, village to village and around 400 men joined in flushing out the criminals. However, unknown to the vigilante group, another gang believed to be members of the Mungiki sect on a retaliatory mission to avenge the death of 14 of their members killed a fortnight ago in neighbouring Kirinyaga District, were hiding in the bushes.

The suspected Mungiki members had learnt the vigilante group’s code name - Bantu - that they had coined to easily identify its members and used it to lure the villagers into their path before hacking them to death. Another survivor, a 24-year-old tea farmer from Kiagumara who did not wish to be named, said he had spent the night hiding in the tea bushes fearing the attackers would strike again.

“The people who killed our brothers are still among us,” he said, fear written all over his face. Twenty five-year-old Monica Wangari Waweru was still trying to come to terms with the grisly murder of her father Stephen Waweru and cousin Nicholas Weru. Ms Waweru runs a tailoring shop in Nairobi and had no intention of travelling, but a telephone call from her mother changed her plans.

“My mother said I had to be home immediately. From the tone of her voice, I realised that all was not well,” she said. The tearful mother of one was among tens of relatives and villagers trying to come to terms with the grisly murders. When she arrived, she was met with faces in mourning and just before she could reach her home, the evidence of the gruesome killings lay bare.

Personal property including caps, hats, shoes and pieces of clothes were strewn all over the footpaths and the surrounding areas, while pools of blood were still visible even after a heavy downpour the previous night. Ms Waweru said some people woke up her father alongside her 30-year-old cousin who lives in an adjacent house and ordered them to get out of the house so that they could join other villagers in fighting criminals that had infiltrated the area.

At first, the 70-year-old man declined to respond and the group left, but moments later, a larger group came back and warned him that if he failed to get out, they would burn the house. “My father and cousin had no choice but to come out of the house and now these are the results,” said Ms Waweru, tears rolling down her cheeks.

At the same village, 44 year-old Veronica Muthoni could not hold back her tears after her two brothers were hacked to death on the fateful night. One thebrothers was a secondary school teacher who had taught for only one month at the neighbouring Muragara Secondary School.

Ms Muthoni, a mother of seven, was raised in Kiagumara village in Nyeri East District but has been married at the neighbouring Kiangai village in Kirinyaga West District for 18 years.

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