A group of joyful villagers flock to the homestead of Mr Alexander Muiruri in Ng’araria village of Kandara, Murang’a, singing and praying enthusiastically.
They are celebrating the return of Mr Muiruri’s seven-year-old daughter Tracy Njeri, who was kidnapped last Wednesday evening on her way home from school.
Mr Muiruri counts himself lucky because his daughter was reunited with her parents on October 31, a day after she was kidnapped.
The man, who owns several matatus that operate in Kandara, did not receive any ransom demands from the abductors although he says he would have raised any amount to secure her release.
But, despite the relief, Mr Muiruri is a worried man because police have linked his first cousin to the crime.
And little Njeri joins a growing number of people who have been kidnapped. She is the 18th person to fall in the hands of kidnappers in Murang’a County since February.
Of these, two have been shot dead and one beheaded, while five have been left nursing bullet wounds. Some have been kidnapped elsewhere and found dumped or hidden in Murang’a.
The pupil went missing on the evening of October 30 evening she headed home from St Christine Academy with her twin brother and other schoolmates.
Police said the girl’s brother and the pupils told them that they bumped into a woman who asked Njeri to accompany her to her house to collect chama money to take to her mother.
But police say the stranger took the pupil to Mugaa-ini trading centre where they took tea. The two then boarded a motorbike, which took them to Ng’araria village where the minor was blindfolded, had her hands tied and was left alone in a church compound.
“We have arrested her aunt,” said area police boss Gregory Mutiso.
He said the girl untied herself the following morning, and as she was heading home around 6 am still in her uniform she met residents who had heard about her disappearance who took her to the police.
Two days earlier, an assistant chief who had been kidnapped in Nyeri County was dropped off at a village in Murang’a by her abductors.
Ms Pauline Nyambura Mathenge was snatched from her home in Naro Moru and dumped at Maragua Ridge village by two people on a motor bike.
But not all kidnap victims are so fortunate.
In one of the most bizarre kidnap incidents, Mr Peter Kiarie, a businessman from Kaha-ini village in Kandara, was seized on August 13 while closing his shop.
His son and three customers were shot and are still nursing injuries.
Mr Kiarie’s headless body was found in a swamp at Kihiu Mwiri village in Gatanga two days later. He was buried on September 24. The kidnappers did not ask for any ransom.
Earlier, the body of a fruit and vegetable vendor from Mukuyu identified as Mr Kenneth Kang’ethe Gitau, 42, was found dumped in Mathioya River with his hands tied. He had stab wounds in the neck.
He failed to return to his Kongo-ini village home on August 13.
A businessman from Murang’a was also abducted from his petrol station in Kagio market in neighbouring Kirinyaga County by three men posing as police officers.
The trio wanted to arrest Mr Harrison Gichuhi, 55, and a scuffle ensued. He was bundled into a getaway vehicle parked nearby during the 7 pm incident. The gangsters later called and demanded a Sh3 million ransom, which police insisted was not paid. The trader later escaped from the gangsters’ hideout near Murang’a town after several days.
A week before the abduction of Mr Gichuhi, a businesswoman had been released by gangsters who held him hostage for four days.
The family of Mrs Mercy Wanjiru Mbugua, a businesswoman in Maragua town, is said to have paid more than Sh100,000 to secure her freedom.
Three gangsters travelling in a vehicle bearing GK number plates attacked her at her pork butchery in Maragua at around 8 pm on August 7.
They also shot and injured an employee identified as Mr William Kang’ethe, who died at Maragua district hospital hours later.
Another victim, Mr George Kamau Njung’e, 45, was picked up by two men from his home in Kambirwa village of Kiharu and his body found hours later at a quarry near Murang’a town with gunshot wounds.
Murang’a County police commander Naomi Ichami said the Murata Sacco assistant manager was taken from his house by people posing as police officers.
The thugs entered Mr Njung’e’s compound at around 11 pm on a Monday night two months ago and ordered him to open the door.
“They robbed him of his personal items and demanded his car keys and, as he was opening the vehicle, they bundled him inside and drove off as his daughter watched,” he said.
Ms Ichami said his body was found hours later at a quarry near the KenGen power station at Wanjii on the Murang’a-Maragua road.
The police boss has also confirmed that kidnappers were intimidating their victims by claiming to be police officers thus preventing families from contacting the police.
“They even have phone numbers of senior officers and they pretend to call them in front of the victim,” said Ms Ichami in her office during an interview with the Sunday Nation.
She said they were investigating whether some officers were colluding with the criminals.
“People should stop sending the ransom money because it encourages the gangsters to continue with their crime. The affected families should also alert us as soon as possible,” she said.
Meanwhile John Ndung’u alias Kweyu and Richard Gitau Mwangi appeared before a Kigumo court charged with kidnapping Mrs Mbugua. In the same court, Mr Boniface Kimani Njuguna, 40, was charged with abducting Alpha Muigai from Ting’ang’a village in Kiambu County and hiding him in his house e in Kigumo. He denied the charges and was released on a Sh100,000 bond and surety of a similar amount.
Three suspects were also arraigned in a Murang’a court for abducting a 70-year-old woman and extorting more than Sh900,000 from her family.
The trio, Felix Irungu, Daniel Kariuki and Rajab Mohammed, denied the charge before Resident Magistrate Ms Jackline Wekesa.
In the first count, they were charged with kidnapping Mrs Mary Wanjiku between October 13 and October 21 last year in Kongo-ini area in Murang’a East district.
They are also accused of demanding Sh1 million from James Maina Kuria to facilitate the release of Mrs Kuria.
Area county commissioner Kula Hache said the “Nyumba Kumi” initiative will be launched in Maragua soon.
Ms Hache said the community policing programme will help arrest the rise in kidnap cases.
“The kidnappings in Murang’a and especially in Maragua area have been worrying us and the public must help us in dealing with the vice,” said the county commissioner.
Murang’a Governor Mwangi wa Iria said his government had already bought five Land-Rovers to be used in police patrols.
“We have agreed that both the county and the national governments will work together to stop the wave of crime,” he said during Mashujaa Day celebrations at Ihura Stadium.