NAIROBI, Kenya Apr 5 – They came in their hundreds, fearful of attacks but determined to honour the victims of one of Kenya’s worst ever massacres.
In Nairobi’s Anglican cathedral, every seat was packed for the Easter Sunday service at the start of three days of official national mourning for the 148 Kenyans killed in Thursday’s attack by Somalia’s Al Shabaab Islamists.
“On this Easter Sunday, we gather in our churches across Kenya in the shadow of great and terrible evil,” Kenyan Anglican Archbishop Eliud Wabukala said in an Easter message.
A handful of armed soldiers patrolled outside.
The attack on a university in the northeastern town of Garissa was Kenya’s deadliest since the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi, and the bloodiest ever by the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Sheba.
As well as prayers for those who died, Church leaders looked to the future, saying that on a day celebrating Jesus Christ’s resurrection, Kenya can also hope to stand again.
“The terrible events in Garissa are still fresh in our minds and heart but today is a day for new hope,” Wabukala said.
“These terrorists want to cause scare and divisions in our society, but we shall tell them, ‘you will never prevail’.”
“It is very sad and it is scary. I was even scared to come to church, because the story says they are targeting Christians,” said a young mother who had slipped outside the cathedral to comfort her crying baby.
“But I am a Christian after all and my faith is giving me confidence and strength,” said the woman who gave her name only as Susan. “It is important to pray for our nation, for those who lost their loved ones.”
But some 200 family members of those who were killed could not attend the Easter service. Instead, they continued their long, grim wait outside Nairobi’s main mortuary, hoping to receive the remains of their loved ones or news of those unaccounted for.
Abraham Koech, 50, was anxious for news of his daughter and had travelled to Nairobi from Elgeyo Marakwet county, some 300 kilometres (190 miles) northwest of Nairobi.
“I have had no news since Thursday. That day she called me, saying ‘terrorists have come and I’m hiding under the bed’,” he recounted.
“After that I heard some heavy shooting and the phone hung up. I tried to call her again several times, it was ringing but nobody picked up.”
He said his trips inside the mortuary have so far yielded no trace of her, but that identification was difficult because the “bullets have deformed the heads” of the victims.
“I’m waiting for another listing of survivors. I still have some hope,” he said.
Outside Chiromo mortuary in Nairobi, people were seated on plastic chairs, some reading newspapers and a few gently weeping.
Others queued to access a room to look at pictures of the corpses. Help is being provided by the Red Cross and some religious groups are helping, but not yet by the government.
Stephen Asande, a 55-year-old civil servant, said he was looking for his niece Josephine Nyaboke, aged 21 and a second-year education student.
He has been waiting at the mortuary since Friday morning, after also checking other morgues and hospitals.
“The state of the bodies are not that good. The process of identification with fingerprints would be better,” he said, adding that the hardest thing was being in the dark.
“It’s difficult because there’s no communication. Now that she has not communicated since Thursday, let’s face it, there’s what, a 20 percent chance she’s still alive?”