Before constable Benson Imbatu went on the rampage, killing his wife and five other people before taking his life yesterday, his colleagues had feared it was a matter of when, not if, he would go berserk.
The policeman, who worked in Kabete, Kiambu County, had been implicated in a murder at Mountain View Estate in Nairobi about eight months ago. However, the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) was yet to submit his file to the Directorate of Public Prosecutions for action, sources told the Nation.
Had he been interdicted, his colleagues said, the civilians he was meant to protect would still be alive.
On the night before the bizarre incident, Imbatu was supposed to be on duty but he excused himself – while still armed – and headed to his house a few metres from his workstation, where he shot dead his wife of two months.
According to Dagoretti sub-county police commander Francis Wahome, the seemingly disturbed officer went on a shooting spree in the wee hours of the morning.
His colleagues, with the help of residents, reportedly tried to trace his movements in order to disarm him. When the officer realised he had been cornered, he chose to shoot himself.
“Anyone he met on his way became his target,” Mr Wahome said. Police said the killer officer fired 26 rounds of ammunition, with most of the victims being boda boda riders.
Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i described the incident as “saddening”, saying preliminary investigations suggested it may have been triggered by a love affair gone awry.
His neighbours at J Apartments knew him as a man of few words.
“He had a reputation of being quick to pull the trigger,” one resident said, adding that they considered him to be “a man with blood on his hands”.
He first killed his wife, Caroline Asava, with whom he had stayed for less than three months, according to his neighbours, before going out shooting indiscriminately. In the aftermath, seven lay dead: Imbatu, his wife, Amos Njoroge, Gabriel Nguma Mutua, Paul Githinji, Kevin Ayieko and one other person.
Ayieko, 26, the last-born in a family of five, was not yet married. He was a boda boda rider by day and a DJ at night. Hours before he met his death, he had been emceeing at a night vigil held in honour of a fallen friend in the neighbourhood.
Ayieko’s family learnt of his death at daybreak.
“He was a cool man,” his sister Judy Njambi recalled. “And hardworking. That’s why he had two jobs.”
Njoroge, 37, had a wife and three children aged eight, five and two. His widow, Ms Winfred Nyambura, told the Nation that they last spoke on Monday around 11pm, which was the last time she heard from him.
She recalled dialling her husband’s number around 6am but his phone went unanswered.
“Around 7.30am I got information that some people had been shot dead. We then proceeded to Kabete Police Station where we found his motorcycle parked and I instinctively knew he was dead,” she said.
“He was the sole breadwinner. He usually worked at night if he did not make enough money during the day. Otherwise he would be home by 6am,” a devastated Ms Nyambura said.
Residents demonstrated in the area for the better part of yesterday. At some point they wanted to march to the police station but police used tear gas to disperse them.
The incident brings to the fore the question of mental illness among police officers in Kenya.
It incidentally happened on a day Dr Matiang’i and Inspector-General of Police Hillary Mutyambai met families of officers who have died in the line of duty.
The police have been grappling with many challenges, including that of housing and most recently, salary cuts.
Speaking during the event, CS Matiang’i said he was aware that mental health and social pressure could be among the factors fuelling the upsurge of police brutality and killings.
He said the government would commit more resources to mental health and counselling to help police and prisons officers deal with stress and other personal challenges.
“Our officers from the Internal Affairs Unit and the DCI have gone to the scene and are investigating the matter,” he said.
Dr Matiang’i also expressed his displeasure with the way Kenyans took to social media to criticise the leadership of the police and hurl insults at the IG and himself.
“As a Cabinet secretary, I am frustrated by such happenings. I admit that we have problems of mental health as well as social pressures. However, this is the time for us to unite as a country and not to trivialise such serious issues on social media,” he said.
IPOA chairperson Ann Makori said the authority had dispatched its Rapid Investigations Team to establish the circumstances that led to the shooting incident.
“Investigations are already underway. The authority has already taken some witness accounts and attended the post-mortem examination,” Ms Makori said.