From Stella Cherono and Pauline Kairu in Nairobi
Two heroines bravely fought to rescue tens of their colleagues from a deadly fire that broke out at Moi Girls School in Nairobi and one of them tragically paid for it with her own life.
Mary Njengo Mokaya and June Chepkemboi took it upon themselves to awaken their colleagues as the raging flames spread through the dormitory known as Purple at 2am on Saturday, killing nine girls.
Mary, who sustained 66 per cent burns during the tragedy, succumbed to her injuries Monday morning and her body was removed to Chiromo Mortuary the same day.
Accounts by her colleagues revealed that when Mary woke up and saw one of the beds on fire, she took her own blanket and moved to the decker that was at the middle of the cubicle and tried putting out the fire while screaming orders to her sleeping classmates to wake up and escape.
When Mary, popularly known by her friends as ‘Meg’, realised her efforts were no match to the furious flames that were quickly spreading to the other beds, she quickly changed tack, choosing to concentrate on forcing the other girls out of the dormitory.
Some of the students have blamed one of their classmates, whom they accused of having threatened to start fire at the institution.
The girl, who is now the subject of investigation together with four others, is also said to have attempted suicide in the past.
“I used to sleep in the same dorm located on the ground floor, together with Mary and the other girl we are suspecting.
“My bed and the suspect’s bed were just separated by one bed. When fire broke out, Meg woke us up.
“She went from bed to bed hitting us and asking us to wake up,” one of the students, who cannot be named because she is a minor, said.
The student said Mary made sure that all the students who used to sleep in her dormitory, on the ground floor of the Kabarnet Block, were out.
“By this time, the fire was spreading very fast to other beds, which were very close to one another.
“When all of us were safely out of danger, a determined Meg decided to rush to the dormitory on the top floor to wake up the rest of the girls.
“I still remember hearing her voice calling out the rest of the students to rush out.
“She kept telling them to run and not to mind being naked. She kept telling them not to take anything because their lives were more important. She was loud enough” she said.
Another student said that while Mary was busy waking up the rest of the girls the whole institution was plunged into darkness owing to a power blackout.
“She was still there and the electricity was off and there was also a huge cloud of smoke.
“We could not even see properly but when we were outside there was a slight illumination from the street lights outside the school.
“I saw some students faint probably because of the heavy smoke,” the student said, adding that at some point, no more students came out of the building and a few minutes later, the fire had been put out.
“That is when we realized that Meg was not even among us and I feared for the worst.
“Some people and police men came and took the injured girls away.
“At dawn, when the police and the Red Cross arrived, we were told Meg was among those who had been taken to hospital because she had been burnt. I felt bad because she saved us but ended up being burnt,” she said.
Mary succumbed to the injuries at 3am after two days at the Kenyatta National Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit, where she was admitted with two other girls.
The Daily Nation found Mary’s family at the Chiromo Mortuary, but her mother and sister were too distraught to say much about the 14-year-old heroine.
Her aunt, Ann Emali said the family had been informed by the doctors that Mary had died, but the body had not been taken to the mortuary.
“We came to the mortuary after we heard that one of the girls who was in ICU had died, but we have been told that the body had not arrived here yet,” Ms Emali said.
She said the family was devastated but was not surprised by their daughter’s brave gesture because she had always been a kind and caring soul.
“Her friends have told us that she was the one who woke up all the students and that she made sure that most of them were out, but they did not see her when they were already out of the dormitories,” Ms Emali said.
She said when the family heard about the fire, they went to the school and later to Nairobi Women’s Hospital where she was initially taken.
“When we saw her, we were happy and hopeful that she would be well. We were later told that she had been taken to Kenyatta National Hospital,” she said.
At Nairobi Women’s Hospital, Chelsy Nyakoa, who was being treated for burns, thanked June Chepkemboi for her life.
“I thank June Chepkemboi for my life. A lot of us do.”
She is one of the three students who are still receiving treatment at the Nairobi Women’s Hospitals.
Nyakoa, who is being treated for carbon monoxide poisoning, said she was barely conscious when she was taken to the hospital.
“Chepkemboi made sure all those who were still in bed were up. She woke me up and made sure I had gotten out of bed.
“She actually dragged me out of bed before she went waking up anybody else who was still in bed,” she said.
“We were the last lot to wake up. The room was full of smoke. We were confused, choking in the smoke and couldn’t see a thing,” Nyakoa, who slept on the upper floor, said.
She said a stampede ensued at the staircase causing most girls to collapse while others ran back into the room.
“Eventually we were able to run out on the stairs. Chepkemboi did not leave me even when I fell and hit my head.
“She pulled me out of the dorm because I couldn’t walk. I could hear she was choking too, but she was so selfless all through.
“She could have chosen to jump out of the window like the others but she rushed around checking whether there was anybody still in bed. A lot of us owe our lives to her.”
Jeriah Nyanchama, a form four student, said they jumped out of a window that was not reinforced with steel bars like the rest.
“I was woken up by the smoke. We tried the stairs but we were met by flames.
“Someone broke the window and that is how we were able to escape,” Nyanchama said.
Although Mary’s body was clearly labelled with her name, sources at the Chiromo Mortuary claimed three families had claimed the body and that DNA analysis had to be done on it to ascertain the identity of the student.
Her Admission Number was 9467.