Monday morning was just like any other school day for Mark Baraza who usually saw his first-born daughter, Lydia Lavender Akosa, off to school before resuming his daily activities.
After seeing little Lydia off to a waiting taxi that took her to Kakamega Primary School, a school located in Kakamega County in Western Kenya, Baraza says he left for his job in Kakamega town where he worked menial jobs.
As usual, he hoped to pick his daughter from school in the evening. But that never happened. It was while returning home from work that Baraza received news that there had been an accident at Lydia’s school.
“I was coming from work when I got the report that children at the school where my daughter went had ran over each other on the stairs and were seriously injured. I ran there hoping to find my daughter safe,” an emotional Baraza told ACI Africa Tuesday, January 4 adding that he learnt his daughter was among the dead pupils when he got to the school.
14 children reportedly died in as stampede as the children ran down stairs of their classrooms on their way home at the end of their classes. As at midnight Monday, two pupils were at the Kakamega Referral Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and 39 others were nursing injuries.
10-year-old Lydia was baptized and confirmed at All Holy Angels, Lutonyi Parish in Kakamega diocese where she was a vibrant member of the Pontifical Missionary Childhood (PMC).
Baraza remembered her daughter as “a cheerful little girl who gave life to my young family and who loved going to church and participating in church activities.”
A catechist in Kakamega diocese told ACI Africa that a number of children involved in the stampede were active PMC children in different parishes within the diocese.
“Some of the children that died in that terrible accident were PMC children and that makes us very sad. At the moment, I can’t say with certainty how many Catholics were injured or died in the accident,” said the Catechist who sought anonymity because he didn’t have the full details pertaining to the accident.
He added, “We understand that some parents are still in shock that’s why they have not called us to relay the information.”
There were conflicting reports about the cause of the accident, with some children narrating that the stampede happened after one of them tried to block a group that was going down the stairs on the third floor. One pupil is said to have forcefully pushed the others.
In another narrative, the children said that a teacher made the children use one side of the staircase, causing a surge. They said the other side of the staircase was reserved for visitors who had a meeting at the school. The children said they started running after the teacher came after them.
Fr. Boniface Kibaki, the Parish Priest of All Holy Angels, Lutonyi in Kakamega diocese said plans were underway to hold interdenominational prayers for children who had perished in the Monday evening incident as well as to pray for quick recovery of those who were admitted in the hospital after sustaining injuries in the accident.
The parish priest who doubles up as a board member for schools in Kakamega County noted that the school was not sponsored by any specific church and expressed the need for different denominations to come together in prayer.
“Kakamega Primary School is not sponsored by any specific church and so, in my position as a board member for catholic schools in Kakamega County, I am looking towards having an interdenominational prayer for the dead and quick recovery for those who are still in hospital,” Fr. Kibaki told ACI Africa Tuesday, January 4.