Families to wait 2 weeks to collect bodies from Yala morgue

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Families of missing persons who have been camping at the Yala Subcounty Hospital mortuary will have to wait for at least two more weeks to collect bodies of their loved ones.

Autopsy and collection of DNA samples finally started on Wednesday after it failed to start two days ago.

Haki Africa executive director Hussein Khalid said the forensics team from the Directorate of Criminal Investigations who are spearheading the exercise confirmed the information.

“We have been informed by the DCI that DNA results will take around two weeks. Unfortunately, the families cannot take the bodies immediately because we have to verify using DNA tests,” Khalid said.

He said that rights activists were on the ground to ensure the veracity of the process and inform Kenyans on the true cause of death of the unknown people.

Khalid added that the identification process is going to take longer because samples must also be taken from close family members so that they can be matched by those of the deceased.

“It is not easier to finish the process because samples must also be collected from family members, especially mothers,” Khalid said.

He further urged Kenyans to consider having DNA samples of their children taken at birth to speed identification processes in case of a misery like the one in Yala.

“I know Kenyans are shying away from this because they are saying that this may break their marriages but there is need for a mandatory DNA testing at birth.”

He asked the Legislature to work around this issue to make sure that there is a DNA repository in the country.

Independent Medical Legal Unit representative Stephen Mugacho affirmed the issue of a repository, saying that it will help identify even people whose close family have departed.

“The DNA bank, if it is set up, will help identify even unknown people whose family has died. As at now it becomes impossible to identify a person if their relatives have not showed up so that samples can be matched,” Mugacho said. 

“Besides, families will not have to travel to the morgue to donate samples.” 

Naomi Cheptoo, a sister to Philemon Cheruiyot Chepkwony, whose family had earlier claimed to have found him in the Yala morgue wished the process would be quick to save the family from mental anguish.

“How we wished everything was done faster so that we can collect the remains of our loved one for burial next week,” she said.

The family has not enjoyed peace since December 3, 2021, when Cheruiyot went missing.

“The Kenya Medical Research Institute is in Kisumu and this should hasten the process because samples will not have to be taken to Nairobi,” Cheptoo said.

She and other families of missing persons have been camping at the morgue since last week.

A tent has been pitched within the mortuary’s compound where family member are counselled.

Mugacho expressed happiness because postmortem examinations had finally started.

“We are happy (a little bit) because we have seen a lot of instruments brought to this place to ensure that postmortem is done,” he said.

According to Mugacho, the facility, which is currently overstretched beyond its capacity of 16 bodies is in a pathetic condition and the dignity of the deceased has not been upheld.

“We call on the government to improve the state of institutions like a mortuary. This is not only a preservation facility but also a place where evidence is collected,” Mugacho said. 

“This mortuary is currently not in good condition thus making it difficult for even postmortem to be done. If these places can be improved then they can help in future.” 

He added: “All bodies should be accommodated in refrigerators. This postmortem requires even X-rays and other equipment. For a good morgue, the process would be quick but here equipment has to be brought in, further delaying the process.”

Three more bodies have been retrieved from River Yala since Monday, pushing the number of bodies at the facility, which were fished out from the river, to 25.

 There are also corpses at the facility whose origin was not the river.

Even so, some residents said that one more dead body had been spotted floating on the river on Wednesday morning.

When the Star visited the embalmed facility, a strong smell had engulfed the area up to a radius of about 40 metres.

The human rights defenders said the morgue is currently not in a good condition as a number of bodies were not being embalmed.

In the meantime, Nicholas Okite Okero, the diver from Yala who has been helping with the retrieval of bodies said the police in the area are now harassing him for no good reason.

At some point he had to camouflage when he saw the police vehicle approach.

“I am not at peace with these people. They are really disturbing me for no apparent reason,” he told the Star, while hiding behind a temporary structure outside the mortuary’s gate.

The rights activists called on the government to ensure that culprits behind the gruesome murders of the unknown persons are brought to book.

“We ask the government to come up with steps that can curb abductions and or disappearances because families are in pain and agony. The government must ensure that these are the last families who have to experience this,” Mugacho said.

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