How 14-year-old girl killed colleagues in 2017 dormitory fire
A desperate attempt to be transferred from a school she didn’t like led a 14-year-old Form One student to torch a dormitory, killing 10 of her colleagues in September 2017.
High Court judge Stella Mutuku, while convicting the former Moi Nairobi Girls Secondary School student, concluded that the accused’s intention was not to harm her schoolmates but to force a transfer from the institution.
“To me, it seems like an action borne out of a desperate attempt to make her be transferred from this school by any means. Her aim may have been just to cause a fire and burn the building without hurting anyone but it was ill-intentioned given that the building had two floors, ground and first. There were going to be casualties as a result of this fire,” noted the judge.
According to Justice Mutuku may have overlooked the consequences of her actions, explaining her belated attempts to wake up some of her friends so that they could flee from the inferno which claimed the lives of 10 students.
“I find the chain of events in the circumstances of this case so complete that the culpability of the minor, and no one else, is established without any reasonable doubt. I find that the chain of circumstances has not been broken at any stage. In other words, there are no other co-existing circumstances weakening the chain of circumstances relied on,” she ruled.
The judge, however, convicted the student for the lesser charge of manslaughter, saying the prosecution did not prove the element of malice aforethought that is required to prove murder.
The court will deliver the sentence on January 4, next year, after hearing the girl’s mitigation.
Under Section 202 of the Penal Code, any person who through an unlawful act or omission causes the death of another person is guilty of manslaughter and liable to imprisonment for life.
What distinguishes murder from manslaughter is malice aforethought. Malice aforethought is deemed to be established by evidence proving an intention to cause death or knowledge that any act or omission will cause death.
The student, whose name cannot be disclosed for legal reasons, was in Form One at the time of the incident. She was arrested and charged after police concluded investigations into the cause of the fire that engulfed Kabarnet dormitory at the school on the night of September 1, 2017, killing the 10 students and injuring several others. The girl has been out on Sh200,000 bond.
The judge, while substituting the offence of murder with that of manslaughter, said the prosecution had proven that the minor had killed her colleagues but unintentionally.
“I find the offence of manslaughter proved beyond reasonable doubt in all the 10 counts; I consequently find her guilty of unlawful act of causing the death of the 10 victims all inclusive,” she ruled.
Justice Mutuku noted that the prosecution had proved beyond reasonable doubt that the fire started at the accused’s bed and that she was the one who started it, though without intending to kill her colleagues.
The conviction comes against the backdrop of rising cases of arson attacks in learning institutions, which have seen about 210 students arrested and charged in the last two months.
A report by the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) on the unrest shows that 200 institutions, mostly secondary schools, have been affected.
DCI boss George Kinoti is on record warning that the affected students’ criminal records would be indicated in their Certificates of Good Conduct whenever they apply for one. The move, according to Kinoti, would inform prospective employers of the applicants’ criminal past.
“This will be a permanent criminal mark that will bar many students from achieving their goals as no employer would dare employ such characters. In other words, their future is as good as destroyed,” Kinoti said.
Yesterday, the government outlined a raft of measures intended to arrest the cases of unrest in schools (see separate story).
In her judgment, Justice Mutuku said it was common knowledge that the student did not like Moi Girls.
“From the evidence on record, the subject’s admission to Moi Girls was not through the normal school intake. It was through a request made through intervention by some officials at Jogoo House. This was given in testimony by the school principal. The subject joined the school later than the other girls who were admitted normally,” Justice Mutuku noted.
Jogoo House is the Ministry of Education headquarters in Nairobi.
“I have read all the evidence presented to this court. That the subject was a troubled girl is no secret. She was unhappy with her parents for not listening to her and for not allowing her to participate in a writing competition,” the judge went on.
The judge revisited witness testimonies recounting how the girl tried to get a transfer from the school, without success.
“She had made an attempt to remain in class one evening with the aim of escaping from the school, leading to counseling. She wanted a transfer from the school, something that her parents did not seem to give a listening ear to. She also seemed to be crying for attention,” noted the judge.
According to Justice Mutuku, the girl had shared her frustrations with her friends and classmates and showed some unconventional tendencies as testified by some of the witnesses.
In her defence, the girl denied committing the offence and refuted claims that she had demonstrated to her fellow students using a matchbox how she planned to torch the dormitory.
She had, however, admitted having a hand sanitiser in school, explaining that all students were allowed to carry one because sanitation at the school was poor.
The girl, who is currently 19 years old, had also confessed in court that she belonged to a WhatsApp group but denied sending messages about her intention to burn the school.
Justice Mutuku, however, noted that the girl was seen with a matchbox and that she had also demonstrated how to light it.
“Whether she meant it at the time of making those expressions seems to have turned into serious threats which she carried out. I have no evidence to connect the subject with the petrol detected but this court does not rule out the possibility of a petroleum product in the mix of things,” stated the judge.
The judge also noted that the fire which was lit by the accused could easily have been contained, were it not have been late in the night and everyone was asleep and unaware of what was happening.
“Most of the evidence shows that the matron and the principal had to be woken up. Most of the teachers who arrived at the scene found the dormitory in flames. In other words, by the time help arrived, the fire had dangerously spread in most of the building, trapping the girls on the first floor on that floor with no escape route. It also seemed that none of the girls had been trained on fire drills,” noted the judge.