Miriam Mueni served her seven-year-old daughter some melon on Friday last week at their home in Mlolongo Phase Three, and bid her goodbye as she left with her aunt.
Sylvia Mwende was excited about a weekend sleepover at her aunt’s place and plenty of playtime with her three-year-old cousin.
Ms Mueni was reluctant to let her girl go away this time, for no apparent reason, but she gave in to her daughter’s pleading.
In any case, it was a routine visit she had become accustomed to, just as her niece would also spend the night at her place.
Only that this time it wasn’t routine. It would be the last time she would ever see her girl alive again, a gloomy finality that tested her relationship with her sister, Caroline Mwendwa.
Ms Mueni would see her little girl the next morning on the cold carpeted floor of her sister’s house, dead.
Instead of their usual cheerful journey back home, with her baby girl recounting her experiences, it would be a grim trip to Shalom Hospital morgue in Mlolongo.
Grief and a chain of troubling questions weighed her down. Why did it have to be her firstborn daughter?
The circumstances of her death were too bitter to fathom. Why would her little girl hang herself? What did she do wrong? She thought she had been a good mother to Sylvia and her six-month- old sister.
But did she really hang herself?
“On the fateful day, I visited my sister, Caroline, at her fruit stall. After a while, I went back home with my daughter and her three-year-old girl. Before we left, my sister told me that she would not be working the next day and that she would pick the children later to spend the weekend with her,” Ms Mueni narrated to the Nation this week.
When they finally got home, they shared a melon, then settled on the couch to watch a movie. Her sister got home, dressed the children and left with them.
Ms Mueni had a gut feeling that this time something wasn’t right. She nevertheless let Sylvia go along with her aunt.
“I wanted my daughter to stay a while with me, but since I had made a promise to my sister, I let them leave. My daughter would be home with me the next day, anyway,” she assured herself.
The next morning, at around nine o’clock, Ms Mueni woke up to the sound of someone banging her door. It was her sister.
‘’She was panting, sweating and out of breath. She told me little Mwende was gone and, with tears in her eyes, she closed the door and left in a hurry,’’ she recounted with teary eyes.
Left in a daze, and with her husband already out for the day, she dressed up, strapped her younger one on her back and followed her sister.
She would find her child laid on the carpeted floor. Her body had been covered in a blue-and-white striped bed sheet. Her entire world crumbled.
According to Timothy Mwendwa, Caroline’s husband, his wife had breakfast with both children on Saturday morning, then left them to take her phone to be repaired.
When she returned half an hour later, she found her daughter locked up in the toilet. She had soiled herself, so she cleaned her up, then went to the closet to pick clean clothes to dress her up. She would find her niece’s body dangling from the closet, a belt tightly tied around her neck.
In panic, she said she cut the belt with a kitchen knife, then placed Sylvia on the bed. According to her, the girl was still alive and made guttural sounds. She lifted her and placed her on the floor, then ran out to inform the mother of the child. She did not alert the neighbours about the incident.
It was only after she came back that she raised the alarm. Her neighbours rushed to her house. By then, Sylvia was dead. As the scuffle ensued, Josephine Mueni, a community policy advocate, passed by, and accompanied her to make a report at Mlolongo police station.
According to a report by the Athi River OCPD, the narration is the same, only that in the report, Caroline says the baby was already dead when she lifted her out of the closet.
When Mr Mwendwa questioned his wife, she said that on her way home, someone told her that her child was crying, having been beaten. She rushed home to see what was going on, an account Caroline did not share with anyone on the fateful day.
‘’I was not in the house when the incident happened, and my friends informed me about it. My heart broke when I saw her lifeless body on the floor. I was so fond of her. My heart feels very heavy and I hate staying and even sleeping in my house,’’ Ms Mwendwa said.
According to neighbours, clothes in the said closet were neatly arranged and none had fallen out of place or on the floor. The body didn’t have marks around the neck, either.
‘’We expected to see abrasions on the neck, but it was as intact as the rest of the body. There was an imprint of a hand on one of her cheeks. Her arms were still flexible, eyes and mouth closed,’’ one of the residents who sought anonymity said.
‘’When the police came in, they conducted a closed questioning, then took the body to Shalom Hospital mortuary,” he added.
On Tuesday, a post-mortem examination found Sylvia suffocated to death.
“We got the post mortem examination results. We were told that my daughter died of suffocation. We were not given any more information and we have left it to the Directorate of Criminal Investigations to proceed with the case,” Sylvia’s father, Joel Muange, told Nation. Yesterday, he went to Mlolongo police station to record his statement.
“The result was given to us. It was said that her mouth and nose were closed and denied access to air. The document, however, is with the police. But we were told lack of air is what caused her death,” said Sylvia’s aunt, Grace Muia.
With the new finding, the police are working to establish how the child suffocated to death and if there was any foul play.
“Having seen the hospital’s (Shalom Hospital) pathologist report, we can confirm that the baby died from suffocation. We are now looking into what caused the suffocation and this new evidence, may change the direction of the investigations,” Athi River OCPD, George Kashimire, told the Nation.
The pathologist Michael Michieka did not respond to our calls and text messages.
Area chief Peter Ndunda, who has been the administrator of the location for close to nine years, said this is the first case he has heard of a child committing suicide.
‘’The most cases I deal with concerning children are accidents. Most kids who have lost their lives in this region were either ill or drowned in uncovered holes drilled during construction,’’ Mr Ndunda said.
Caroline is in police custody awaiting conclusion of investigations.