Kakamega Primary School has been closed temporarily to allow for investigations into the tragic deaths of 14 pupils in a stampede on Monday evening.
Speaking at the school on Tuesday morning, Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha said the institution will remain closed until Monday next week.
He spoke after a meeting with the school’s management, county leaders and security agencies.
“We have decided that the children should rest for the rest of the week,” said the CS.
The school is expected to be reopened on Monday after a thorough assessment.
In the meantime, counselling desks will be established at the school to help traumatised families.
Western Regional Commissioner Anne Ngetich said investigations will be concluded by the end of Tuesday and the cause of the stampede is expected to be revealed.
Ms Ngetich condoled with families and called for calm.
“We must get to the bottom of this and I assure you we will because something must have happened to trigger this,” she said.
The shocking Monday evening tragedy happened moments after the day’s lessons and pupils were leaving school for home.
Some Class Five pupils whose classrooms are on the affected building told the Nation on Tuesday that there are two stairways on the building, but a teacher barred pupils from using one side, causing a surge.
According to pupils who spoke to Nation, there had been a meeting of Class Seven parents in the school on Monday and another one was to take place on Tuesday for a different class.
They said the teacher told them that one stairway was reserved for visitors.
They started running after the teacher came after them, they claimed.
SUFFOCATED TO DEATH
Another pupil recuperating at his parents’ home in Kakamega town said he watched three of his classmates suffocate to death.
The three girls were holding hands and fell as other pupils ran over them.
He believes he was saved by his bag which was on his back and which had a heavy jacket inside.
Addressing anxious parents at the school, Prof Magoha ruled out congestion as the cause of the stampede.
“It is not about numbers, the headteacher was so much in control of the numbers when I was here so nobody can tell me it’s about the numbers,” he said.
The CS was full of praise for the school and teachers as he ruled out foul play. But he insisted that the root cause of the tragedy must be established.
“Those were my children who were learning in one the best schools,” the CS said.
“I am familiar with this school. I was here two months ago and I inspected it. It is one of the finest schools and has some of the finest teachers. I went to four classrooms and I was thoroughly impressed. They are excellent teachers,” he added.
Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya termed the deaths a big loss to the county.
“I was in grief to find 13 pupils lying lifeless at the morgue and I was left speechless. We are extremely pained. These were innocent souls,” he said.
He condoled with the bereaved families and said that the county will foot the funeral costs and help in other burial arrangements.
The governor appealed for calm, even as he urged investigators to establish what happened.
“We have many questions and we want answers. We shall stand with the families to the end,” he stated.
He lauded the quick action by national government officials led by Prof Magoha, Education Principal Secretary Belio Kipsang and Government Spokesman Cyrus Oguna.
He said he was impressed by the team spirit exhibited by the joint county and national government multiagency team working closely with medical staff at the county referral hospital.
“Let’s remain calm until we get to know the cause of what happened,” he said.
At the same time, the governor has formed a team to plan for the funeral of the 14 pupils.
“We want to give our little children a befitting send-off,” he said.
The bereaved parents were asked to visit the governor’s office for planning purposes.
Prof Magoha delivered President Uhuru Kenyatta’s condolences to the families of the dead pupils.
“It is painful enough and we share in this grief,” he said.