Gone Without a Trace: A Woman’s Desperate Search for her Twins

Samuel Muiruri and James Mwahu just before they went missing in 2012. They were four.

It had been two hours since she last saw her sons. They had left with their dad, her ex-boyfriend. Now he was saying he was not with them. That was October 28, 2012. Almost six years later, Elizabeth Mwahu is yet to see her twins again.

The sun was going down. It was getting cold outside. At her house in Gachororo, 33 kilometres north of Nairobi in Juja, Kiambu County, Elizabeth was getting worried, but she was not sure why. She had this gut feeling, the kind only mothers understand. Her sons — James Mwahu (Jamo) and Samuel Muiruri (Sam) — had stepped out with their dad. It had been two hours, and she was worried they were feeling cold. They had left without warm clothing.

And then her world was turned upside down. Outside, nightfall was approaching, and with it, a dark chapter in her life. She was in her early thirties.

She recalls the events of that Sunday evening like it was yesterday. A few minutes to 7pm, her ex-boyfriend came in to the house  then she asked about the boys. And he shot the question back at her and then said they were in the house.

Elizabeth was confused. He had left with the twins earlier on, of that she was sure. He said they had decided not to accompany him, and he had left them playing at the ground floor of their apartment building.

They were four.

She remembers the happiness written all over her sons’ faces that Sunday they went missing. They were looking forward to visiting their aunt — whom they were so fond of — in school.

Their dad had called the previous day — he wanted to see the boys. They agreed he would come visit them the following day .

The sun was shining bright as she prepared the boys for the day that morning. Nothing betrayed the fact that by nightfall, her boys will be gone. Without a trace.

Their dad arrived at around 5.30 that evening, carrying some food. But just as they were sitting down to eat, he received a call.

“The person on the other end said he had had an accident and wanted him to send him money. And because he did not have any cash with him, he decided to drive to Juja to get some. He asked to go with the boys, and because I knew they wouldn’t take long, I agreed,” she says, her voice cracking.

Worried but still hoping they had strayed out of the compound, she went back to the house. She asked him to accompany her to their old house in a nearby estate, hoping Sam and Jamo had strayed there.

It would be the beginning of a painful and desperate six-year search for the boys.

That night, she mobilised a search party of her friends and neighbours. They searched all night. The first rays of the sun signalling a new day found her at a police station, reporting that her twins — Sam and Jamo — had gone  missing. That morning marked the dawn of a new life for her. A life without her children. Her heart was heavy. It has been since that Sunday night.

When a child goes missing, it is the police that are charged with tracing their whereabouts. Statistics on missing children in Kenya vary from one organisation to another. Kenya lacks a comprehensive database of missing children. But a projection shows that more and more children go missing with each passing month.

Anybody could be involved in the loss of a child. Anyone can and should be a suspect. That parent, that relative, that friend, neighbour, house help or passer-by.

Many times, it is usually a person the child is familiar with. But while some children are abducted, most usually wander off never to be seen again.

Click here to watch a short video on what to do when a child goes missing.

Elizabeth’s tribulations mirror the frustrations most parents who have lost their children go through. In Kenya, there are no special desks dedicated to tracing missing children or lost persons in most police stations. Most cases are often referred to criminal investigations desks, where they are lumped together with robbery, murder, fraud and all manner of criminal cases.

The Juja police station where Elizabeth reported that Sam and Jamo were missing did not have a Department of Criminal Investigations (DCI) desk. When she reported the matter that Sunday night she was sent to the Ruiru police station, nine kilometres away, where she was asked to record another statement. With promises by the police that they would launch investigations immediately, Elizabeth went back home. But at the heart of a mother whose child is missing can never be at ease. Worse still when two children are missing.

So Elizabeth did the most natural thing. With the help of her friends, she printed ‘Missing Child’ posters and pasted them on walls, electric poles and posts around Juja.

Elizabeth also contacted various radio and TV stations which published her story. She faithfully went to the Milimani law courts in Nairobi whenever missing children were paraded. Not one to tire, the love of a mother looking for her children took her anywhere and everywhere a lost child was found.

She has lost count of the number of children’s homes she has been to.

“I have received many calls on lost children placed in a home from all over the country. I have gone to wherever these calls lead me to,” she says.

Still, there has been no sign of Sam and Jamo.

Several organisations have come up to help unite lost children with their families, a testament on just how dire the problem of missing children is. One such organisation is Missing Child Kenya, a community driven online platform which works with others — particularly the police and children’s homes — to help reunite lost children with their parents. It also offers psycho-social support for the families.

Since it was established in July 2016, it has worked with 278 families in Kenya, and has helped reunite 126 lost children with their families, says Maryana Munyendo, its founder and director. Sixty three others have been placed in children’s homes run by the government.

The organisation works with online communities to help trace 89 missing children, putting up posters and pushing them to online communities in a bid to reunite them with their families.

Missing Child Kenya’s vision is to foster inter-agency collaboration in tracing lost children and reuniting them with their loved ones. The organisation also creates awareness on the issue of missing children and educated its partners on best practices when it comes to handling missing children cases.

But that is not all a parent or guardian should do. Hubs like Missing Child Kenya and Child Welfare Society come in to help. Missing Child Kenya puts up posters of missing children and pushes ads on its online and social media platforms. It also publishes photos of missing children and their details periodically on the leading newspapers, asking members of the public to be on the lookout. Missing Child Kenya can be found on Facebook @missingchildkenya, on Twitter @missingchild_ke, and on 0704 447417.

But it is through its social media and website that it pushes most of its campaigns. Missing Child Kenya also uses SMS alerts, online community platforms and liaises with local administration.

It depends a lot on the social good of individuals, especially online communities. When someone shares a missing child alert, they contribute to reuniting a missing child with their family.

Through the hashtag #MissingChildKE, the organisation has helped spread the word on missing children to tremendous success.

And every time its sends out a “CHILD FOUND” alert, it is a happy moment that calls for celebration. It’s another child has been reunited with their family.

Although some children go missing for a long time and some have not been found, there is hope. Many others have been found and taken back home.

After being separated from their families, many children are gripped by trauma, anxiety or depression. They could have difficulty sleeping or develop problems with concentration, attention and learning. Most parents of missing children do not get the psychosocial support but there is an increasing need for some.

“No family should have to deal with the trauma of a missing child alone. A family member’s ability to be strong and to help in the search of the missing child requires that they attend to their own physical and emotional needs. Families commonly experience a desperate need not to forget their loved ones. They actively struggle to keep their memory alive despite the psychological and psychosocial difficulties that may result,” Maryana says.

April 15, 2018
Juja, Kiambu County

A few months ago, the police reopened Sam and Jamo’s case. It has been five years of pain, loss, renewed hope, crushed hopes and heartaches for their mother.

Uncomfortable but willing to talk, Elizabeth sits down with us for an interview. She stares blankly at the camera, her hands twitching and legs crossed, sitting uneasily at the edge of a sofa in her living room. She is nervous. Emotional.  Her eyes search the interviewers eyes, then she turns away.

A few months ago, the police reopened Sam and Jamo’s case. It has been five years of pain, loss, renewed hope, crushed hopes and heartaches for their mother.

Uncomfortable but willing to talk, Elizabeth sits down with us for an interview. She stares blankly at the camera, her hands twitching and legs crossed, sitting uneasily at the edge of a sofa in her living room. She is nervous. Emotional.  Her eyes search the interviewers eyes, then she turns away.

“Its okay to cry,” Salome, our interviewer, tells her.

“No. I won’t cry,” she shoots back.

As she starts to speak, her face twists, her voice cracks, sometimes dropping to a mere whisper. Meek. Begging for whoever has her boys to bring them back.

For Elizabeth, it has been an exhausting five-year search. Her sons are now 10-year-olds.

“I miss them…”

Elizabeth is hanging on to hope. She has to be strong for her boys when they come back home.

Other children have been found and she believes that someday soon, she will also see her twins again, hug them, hold them and tell them how much she loves them.

“Have you seen my children?” she says to the camera, clutching tightly at their photo.

Whenever she sees a school bus with children, or a set of twins, her heart skips a beat, her soul crying out for her sons.

There is little she has not done to find her twins. She has been to every children’s home she could get to. She has told and retold her story to the press. She has implored on the police to keep the case’s file open. Still nothing.

She has never given up on finding them. And although she has given away most of their clothes, she holds on to a few to remind her of Jamo and Sam.The clothes, clean and well-ironed, are neatly packed in a suitcase in her bedroom. Once in a while, she takes them out, stares at them and wonders just how Sam and Jamo look like.

The clothes would be too small for them now, but besides their toys and photographs, the clothes are her key reminders of just what life would be if she had her sons with her

“With them around, the house was always in chaos. I had to move to a bigger house with enough room for them to play in,” Elizabeth says as she gestures at her living room.
When they had no plans of going out after church on Sunday afternoons, the three of them would climb into bed, one twin on either side of her, and play till they fell asleep. Those Sunday afternoons were bliss for the young mother and she prays that she will one day hold them like that again.

Five years have gone by, five years of torture and hope. Five years of wondering if her boys are warm enough, if they have eaten, if they are clothed and well taken care of. Five years of being unable to eat their favorite spaghetti meal.

When she bakes, she imagines if they would enjoy her cakes.

She has celebrated their birthday faithfully every year since they went missing. She says she will continue doing so until they return home.

Her message to Jamo and Sam is that she misses them and wishes to hold them; and will never give up on looking for them.

Help Elizabeth reunite with her children. If you see Sam and Jamo or have any information on them, kindly contact her on 0736 465 302or report to the nearest police station