After attending a burial, Pastor Steven Mugambe’s relatives decided to spend the night at his place because it was too late to travel back to Jinja.
His mother too was invited from the neighbouring village to spend the night there. As they slept, assailants broke into the house and hacked nine people to death, write Charles Etukuri and Ali Mambule
Two months after a family of nine people were hacked to death in Kyebe sub-county in Rakai district, nobody has been formally charged with the murder, although the Police made some arrests.
The fateful night
Sunday, January 13, started off as a normal day for the family of Pastor Steven Mugambe, a prominent pastor with the local Kyebe Pentecostal Church in Rakai district.
The pastor and his wife had received visitors, including his brothers and sisters with their families. They had travelled from Jinja to attend a burial of a relative and since it was late, the visitors decided to spend the night at Mugambe’s home.
They slept in the sitting room. Since most family members had gathered there, they also invited their mother who resided in the neighbouring village to spend the night with them to discuss family matters.
Seeing that there was limited space for all the visitors to sleep, the pastor sent one of his children to go and sleep in the shop they were running at the trading centre.
The family prayed together, wished each other a good night and slept — unaware that some of them would never wake up to see each other again.
According to the pastor’s child, at around midnight, they were woken up by the noise of somebody digging through the wall of the house. Since it was a new house and was not plastered, the intruders managed to get through fast. About three men entered the house and looked surprised when they saw the number of people.
Some family members tried to hide and those still sleepy were too shocked to make any alarm.
A survivor says one of the men had a big, bright torch, which he flashed into the room. He then pulled out his phone and dialled the pastor’s number which rang from the bedroom. The pastor answered the phone, but the man hang up, dialled another number and communicated to another person who, the Police believe was the one who hired the killers.
The burly man then entered the pastor’s bedroom. The pastor pleaded with him to spare his life and that of his family and take whatever he wanted, but his pleas fell on deaf ears.
He then hacked him and turned to his wife who tried to put up a fight, but was powerless. Then the man went to the sitting room and one by one, with the help of the other men, hacked Mugambe’s relatives using an axe. The others stabbed with a machete and knife.
All this time, a girl who had hidden under the bed, watched in horror. The pastor’s mother tried hiding under the bed, but she was pulled out and hacked to death.
After killing all the elderly, they turned to the children, but one of them, Ronald Mbaziira, ran out of the house.
One of the men threw an axe at him, injuring him, but he was still able to escape to the shop where his other sibling was and told him what had happened. They locked themselves in the shop, afraid that the killers could have followed Mbaziira.
The killers then went out to pick the car. One of the relatives had slept there. He was pulled out, marched to the house and murdered. Being killed, he was undressed and one of the killers wore his clothes because his were blood stained.
By the time they left, the pastor, his wife Nowerina Nalunya and seven relatives were dead. The Police identified the dead as Jane Nakiwala, Bena Nakivumbi, Max Nakirijja, Maria Nakajugo, Christine, Kenny and Jane.
The next morning
The two children who had slept at the shop woke up early in the morning and returned home. The girl who had hidden under the bed was too afraid to come out. She thought the killers were still around.
They began to wail, attracting the neighbours, who called in the Police. A Police sniffer dog deployed at the scene failed to track down the killers since they had escaped using a car. The Police invited other forensic experts from Kampala to help with the investigation.
The Police still wonders: Did the family cry out for help and if they did, why did the neighbours not respond? The nearest home is not more than 100 metres away, but a neighbour told Sunday Vision he never heard any cries for help.
Village still gripped in shock
When Sunday Vision visited the village, Peter Muwawu, the LC1 chairperson of Mutagombwa village said: “We knew these people very well. That some inhuman beings can just come in one night and snatch lives of innocent people shows how low humanity has sunk.”
Muwawu added that the local council faces an uphill task because of the many settlers who had thronged the area through the Kasensero landing site and Lake Victoria.
“We have been rendered powerless as the local councils because we are not legally recognised now. We have not had fresh elections to replace those that have either shifted or died,” he said.
Muwawu says despite the area being near a busy landing site, they had few Police officers to help them in combating insecurity in the area and they still relied on the help of the central Police, which was several kilometres away from the area.
Residents who spoke to Sunday Vision recall the pastor as a kind and generous man who lived a purposeful life.
A villager said the pastor had told him he had received threats from some people who had asked him to renounce his Christian faith. This lead, the Police says, was passed on to them, but when they pursued it, it did not yield any supporting evidence.
The Police said they were investigating reports that the family was involved in a land wrangle. Southern regional Police commander, Simon Peter Wafana, under whose jurisdiction the case falls, said they received information that the killings were as a result of a land dispute involving the family of Joseph Musanya and John Kizza who both died in the early 1990s.
The said piece of land is located at Katongero village in Kyebe sub-county, where the family members have for long been threatening each other with death.
“We interrogated several family members and many of them centered on the land conflict between the two families of Musanya and Kizza,” Wafana said.
Since the death of two family heads, the families had never agreed on who would control the one-and-a-half acres.
The Police also received clues from a resident that one Norah Nakyejwe, who was eventually arrested, had recently quarrelled with the pastor over accountability of money sent by a relative abroad. It is reported that the relative of Nakyejwe used to send her money to develop his properties, but she would divert it.
When the said relative returned, Nakyejwe could not account for the monies that had been given to her. It is then that he started sending the money to the pastor.
Acting on this, the Police arrested her, but she was released after spending close to two weeks at the Special Investigations Unit in Kireka.
“She is out on bond as we carry out more investigations,” a Police source told Sunday Vision.The Police also say they arrested her after reports indicated that because of the fall out, the pastor had wanted to sack her from the church committee.
But perhaps one of the most important clues that the Police has failed to explain is who was the owner of the mystery number that called the pastor that night? Why can’t the phone printouts be secured? A Police source says they had arrested two other men who are being detained at the Special Investigations Unit.
Recovering the car
The Police recovered the car that had been used by the assailants to escape at Kyotera where it had been abandoned at the Las Vegas Guest House.
According to an area resident, a man came driving the car at around 11:00am, parked it outside and pretended he was going to a nearby shop to purchase something.
That was the last time he was seen. The news of the car and number plate had been circulated on the airwaves and the Police was called in, but the Police could not trace any of the occupants of the car.