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SAD: Homeless Kenyan man dies in snow in US, family seeks answers

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Sylvia Githiri remembers the last phone call with her son.

“He used to call me so often and tell me how much he loved me,” Githiri says by phone from her home in Delaware.

“His last words, were like, ‘Oh, mom, everything is OK. I’m going to call you back, and I love you.”

But Githiri’s son — 34-year-old Kelvin Ibirithi, a Kenyan immigrant — never called back.

Everything would not be OK.

On the morning of Sunday, Feb. 10, Ibirithi’s body was discovered in a snow-covered field not far from Tacoma’s Sixth Avenue.

Ibirithi died freezing and alone.

He was homeless, so his death attracted little attention. In the days after, a survey of people who work in the businesses surrounding the field revealed no knowledge of his existence. At the busy bank branch, the daycare center and the used tire shop nearby, no one knew of the man who sought refuge in their midst.

Ibirithi had been on and off the streets of Tacoma since at least 2016. In recent years, he sought help with housing from local service providers at least once.

It didn’t work.

Meanwhile, Ibirithi’s family — including his father, a Kenyan asylum seeker who arrived in the United States nearly two decades ago, with his wife and sons soon to follow — repeatedly tried to get him off the street and off alcohol.

Ultimately, those efforts failed, too.

On the Friday before he died, as a muffling, serene snow blanketed the city, Ibirithi sent a text message to a friend.

It was one of several messages in an increasingly desperate thread

“Help me,” it read.

There would be no response.

For Ibirithi, help never came.

LEAVING KENYA

Eliud Githiri is a tall, stoic man with browline glasses and white jaw-length sideburns. He recalls coming to the United States from Kenya, desperate and seeking asylum.

Back home, he was the last of nine children, and a coffee farmer and accountant. His knowledge of finance got him into trouble, he says.

Aware that the Kenyan government was underpaying coffee farmers like him, Githiri says he began to “enlighten” his fellow countrymen.

“They started arresting me, persecuting me. I became a target,” Githiri says.

“That’s why I had to move out.”

Then living near Narobi, Kenya’s capital, Githiri first fled to the seaport city of Mombasa, staying in nearby remote areas to avoid detection. The experience strained his wife and four sons, including Kelvin.

In 2001, Githiri flew to the United States, making a home in Delaware. He hasn’t returned to Kenya since.

Two years later, in 2003, Githiri was granted asylum, he says.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services doesn’t discuss individual citizenship or asylum cases due to privacy concerns, but the Department of Homeland Security’s Yearbook of Immigration Statistics shows that 122 people from Kenya applied for asylum in 2001 and 144 applied in 2003.

Over the coming years, Githiri’s wife, Sylvia, and three of his sons, including Kelvin, would follow. By 2007, they were all in the United States. Only Githiri’s oldest son stayed behind.

“I would say they had a hard time, because of the persecution that I was going through,” Githiri says. “I kind of believe it affected them, especially the last two (boys). They had a lot of trauma.”

Kelvin Ibirithi arrived in the United States in 2005.

In Kenya, he’d studied ayurvedic medicine — a traditional form of holistic healing. His mother describes him as a good student, a quiet boy and a hard worker.

In the United States, Ibirithi — who was in his early 20s at the time — first worked in residential adult care before eventually attending Delaware Technical Community College and gravitating toward construction.

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Sylvia Githiri, 62, still lives in Delaware. Though the specifics are clouded by grief, she also remembers the toll that the family’s struggle in Kenya and relocation to the United States took.

“It was tough,” Sylvia Githiri recalls. “So many things were going on. … (Kelvin) was quiet. He didn’t talk much about it. He seemed to be happy, but I don’t know.”

She also recalls her son’s endearing qualities.

“Kelvin was a very humble son. He could not even harm a fly. He used to love people. He used to joke and smile all the time,” Sylvia Githiri says. “He was a very hardworking, strong young man.”

In 2015, Eliud and Ibirithi moved to Washington — leaving Sylvia behind. In Delaware, Eliud Githiri worked in residential adult care and as a commercial cleaner before purchasing a gas station. He decided to sell the business, he says, after being robbed too many times.

Together, father and son settled in Tacoma at an apartment near the mall.

driscoll_kelvin_optional secondary.JPG
Supporters of Eliud Githiri and his son Kelvin have gathered for frequent prayer vigils in Kenya. Githiri said the vigils have been attended by as many as 400 people.
Courtesy of Eliud Githiri

SEARCHING FOR ANSWERS

Sitting behind a small desk at the residential adult family home he now owns, Eliud Githiri rifles through a black briefcase, searching for Kelvin’s cell phone.

“It’s hiding,” he says as he goes from pocket to pocket, looking for one of the final connections he has to his son’s life.

The police gave him the phone after delivering the bad news, he says. He’s spent the days since trying to decipher its call log and unanswered text messages, looking for answers that have proven elusive.

There’s a message from the afternoon of Saturday, Feb. 9 that he sent his son, asking him to call. The previous evening, Kelvin had sent him a photograph of his feet buried in the quickly accumulating snow.

There’s also a message from Ibirithi’s mother with a similar plea.

Neither garnered a response.

“The last time I was with him was on Wednesday, and we kept on talking, because I was trying to ask him to come back,” Eliud Githiri says, acknowledging a familiar struggle in recent years — the family trying to rein Kelvin in, and those attempts proving unsuccessful.

“I don’t know exactly what happened, because on Friday I talked with him, and we had an agreement to meet on Sunday. So when I missed him … I was kind of worried about him,” Eliud Githiri continues. “Saturday I called him. Sunday morning, I called him.

“Even when I was being informed by the officer that he had passed away, I was planning to go look for him.”

Over the last year or more, Githiri says, he’s spent a significant amount of time looking for his son — and praying for him.

The time they spent living together in the small apartment on Tacoma Mall Boulevard had generally gone well — with Ibirithi working in the service industry for much of the time.

More recently, after the two moved to the residential adult family home Githiri purchased and later to a place on Yakima Avenue, things began to deteriorate.

His son started coming home less and less, Githiri says, and drinking more and more.

“When we came here is when he started going out. I didn’t really approve,” Githiri says. “I didn’t like the company he was involving himself with. They were characters that I did not approve of.”

‘AN ONGOING STRUGGLE’

By late 2016, Ibirithi crossed paths with Dawna Bryant, the outreach team lead for Comprehensive Life Resources in Tacoma, which provides behavioral health services.

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Bryant recalls Ibirithi and his girlfriend at the time visiting a Comprehensive Life Resources office on the corner of South 15th Street and Tacoma Avenue, looking for help out of homelessness. At the time, Bryant believes the couple was living mostly out of a vehicle.

“I remember him, because his last name was so unusual,” Bryant says. “I don’t remember how long they said they’d been homeless. It seemed to me it was an ongoing struggle with him.”

Bryant also recalls the specter of chemical dependency hanging over the conversation — though both denied it at the time — and underlying mental health issues possibly being a factor.

“I remember that they were looking to get off the street, but when we talked about how that was going to happen … We didn’t come to an understanding,” Bryant says. “We talked for probably half an hour, maybe 45 minutes. They were supposed to come back so they could work on some more things, but they never came back.”

Bryant continues.

“It happens a lot. People will come in and … they don’t really get back to see us in a timely manner, or we’re not able to find them,” she says. “I do remember both of them really, really wanted to get off the street. They were determined.”

Other local service providers declined to say whether they had served Ibirithi, citing privacy concerns.

As determined as Kelvin might have been to escape homelessness, the pieces never came together.

A review of Ibirithi’s criminal record over the last few years reveals a rap sheet emblematic of the familiar tumult of homelessness and addiction. It’s marked by trespassing citations, subsequent warrants and alcohol-related infractions. There’s also at least one domestic violence protection order.

“Drinking became a problem,” Eliud Githiri acknowledges. “I told him as soon as he improved I would send him back to school. He said that’s what he wanted. All the time he would say, ‘I’ll stop. I’m not drinking.’ He lived in denial.”

On the other side of the country, Sylvia Githiri recalls a similar battle.

“He started to struggle. He stopped working. I think he was in the wrong company, and he started drinking,” she says. “We were trying to get him into rehab, but we were not able to. It was too hard.”

As the situation worsened, Eliud Githiri called on his large family in Kenya and an institution that’s provided him with a backbone of support — his church.

A member of the Diaspora Community of Faith Church just south of Fern Hill Park, Githiri enlisted the help of his pastor and the church’s large Kenyan congregation.

“I said I wanted prayer. I want prayers for my children,” Eliud Githiri says. “So we prayed. It didn’t help so much.

“But I kept on.”

A BODY IN THE SNOW

By the morning of Sunday, Feb. 10, a thick blanket of snow covered the vacant field behind a tire center on Tacoma’s Sixth Avenue, and temperatures hovered in the teens.

The field — most of it surrounded by fencing, some of it lined with razor wire — is where Ibirithi’s body was found.

According to Tacoma Police spokeswoman Loretta Cool, Ibirithi’s body was lying facedown, with an empty liquor bottle nearby and no footprints in the snow around it.

Authorities arrived at 9:49 a.m., roughly 15 minutes after being dispatched to the scene. Officials with the Tacoma Fire Department had already turned the body over, determining that the man was deceased.

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No identification was found.

A 911 caller — later identified by The News Tribune as 73-year-old former Gig Harbor City Council member John Picinich — discovered the body. Picinich told police that Ibirithi — whom he described as homeless and “a heavy drinker” — had performed odd jobs for him in the past.

At approximately 9:30 a.m., Picinich said he came looking for Ibirithi, who he told police had been known to set up a camp in this field. Picinich told The News Tribune that Ibirithi was supposed to work for him that day but wasn’t answering his phone.

Cool said that Ibirithi’s body was removed at 10:35 a.m. and that the police report notes that there were “no unusual circumstances at this time.”

A short time later, a single police officer knocked on Eliud Githiri’s door.

“They said, ‘I have some sad news for you. Can you sit down?’” Githiri recalls.

“So I sat down, and that’s when he broke the news.”

In the week following Ibirithi’s death, Githiri says the congregation at Diaspora Community of Faith Church raised more than $20,000 to pay for his son’s burial.

On Wednesday, Feb. 20 — 10 days after Ibirithi was found in the snow — a funeral was held at Calvary Cemetery in Tacoma.

Meanwhile, back in Kenya, Githiri’s family — which numbers close to 400 hundred with generations of children and cousins — has been holding regular prayer vigils.

‘HELP ME’

The Pierce County Medical Examiner’s office says it could be months before an official cause of death is determined.

Ibirithi’s family, meanwhile, is left trying to come to terms with the reality that there will likely be questions they’re never able to answer.

How did Ibirithi end up facedown in the snow? Who was the last person he talked to?

And where did it all go so wrong?

“I don’t think I will ever really know,” says Eliud Githiri.

One thread of messages on Kelvin’s cell phone remains particularly troubling to his father.

He keeps returning to it.

It starts, like other messages on the phone, with a picture of snow on the ground, covering long, matted grass that looks similar to the growth that fills the vacant field behind the tire shop.

It’s sent to a contact Githiri doesn’t recognize — listed as “D D. Crazy.”

“Call me in a few,” Ibirithi’s messages begin, before spiraling downward in despondency.

“I should have been dead by now,” the next text reads.

“Help me.”

“Please talk to me.”

For a grieving father, the glimpse into his son’s final days is nearly too much to take.

It’s certainly too much to make sense of.

“It doesn’t matter what I think,” Githiri says when asked about his son’s pending cause of death. “Could he (have) been killed or poisoned? Could it have been suicide? Or he was desperate? Nobody has got an answer to that. These are things we can’t know.”

“I would like him to be remembered as a person who loved being in the community, supportive …,” the father adds, before looking out the window and trailing off.

“Really, I can’t have a lot to say, because I loved him. It’s only that somewhere, some way, things changed.”

Three days after that conversation, Githiri texted me with one final request.

“Please write what you would like to hear about your child,” it read.

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VIDEO: Amb Githae cautions Kenyans in US against DUI, Domestic violence

The Kenyan ambassador to the United States, Robinson Njeru Githae, has cautioned Kenyans living in the United States against breaking the laws of the host country.

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BY BMJ MURIITHI

Mr Githae singled out Driving Under the influence (DUI) which he said was common among Kenyans in some US cities.

“Refrain from drunk driving….Hapa mkono wa sheria ukikupata umekupata (the arm of the law here is very effective),” he said recently when he addressed attendees of this year’s Atlanta Majuu Cultural festival held in Atlanta, Georgia.

He also warned against domestic violence noting that such acts are taken very seriously by law enforcers in the US.

“Whatever you do, don’t break the laws of your host country. Ni vizuri kuacha tabia zingine (let us discard some of these habits)” he added.

In recent years, cases of Kenyans who have been arrested for DUI which have sometimes led to the discovery of other previous crimes and misdemeanors have been on the rise, at a time when the the US Immigration and Customs and Enforcement (ICE) agency has stepped up its enforcement and eventual deportations.

For drivers 21 years or older in most US States, driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or higher is illegal. For drivers under 21 years old, the legal limit is lower, with state limits ranging from 0.00 to 0.02.

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Lower BAC limits apply when operating boats, airplanes, or commercial vehicles. Among other names, the criminal offense of drunk driving may be called DUI, driving while intoxicated or impaired (DWI), operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol (OVI), or operating while impaired (OWI).

The penalties for drunk driving vary among states and jurisdictions. It is not uncommon for the penalties to be different from county to county within any given state depending on the practices of the individual jurisdiction. Some jurisdictions require jail time and larger fines, even on a first offense.

For instance, Ohio requires a mandatory 72-hour jail sentence for a first offense conviction; however, the jail time component is satisfied by attendance of the Ohio A.W.A.R.E. Program, which is a 72-hour alcohol-education program.

For the most part, DUI or DWI are synonymous terms that represent the criminal offense of operating (or in some jurisdictions merely being in physical control of) a motor vehicle while being under the influence of alcohol or drugs or a combination of both.

There have also been instances where spouses have engaged in domestic violence with most of them ending up in jail or even facing deportation.

Githae commended the organisers of the festival, led by Rev Dr GG Gitahi of Kenyan American Community Church.

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Thousands of people, including renowned Kenyan gospel artistes, graced the annual event which – for the first time in the five years it has been running -was held at the Cobb County Civic Center in the heart of Marietta, Georgia.

The envoy, who has since been named as the new ambassador to Austria, promised to help make the event bigger and better.

“This is very impressive and we should not stop here. We are going to make sure that other communities in the US participate next year,” he said.

[The video will post here as soon as the processing is done. Check back soon]

In the meantime, enjoy the photos courtesy of David King’ang’i of DKK Photography:

PHOTOS COURTESY OF DKK PHOTOGRAPHY

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Kenyans ask for Wetangula’s whereabouts as things get ugly, messy and noisy for him

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Ford Kenya leader Moses Wetangula has not been seen in public since information allegedly directly linking him to the latest fake gold scam leaked. His Twitter handle has also gone silent. Some media reports have however indicated that he has travelled out of the country.

In 2010, when he was the Foreign Affairs minister in the grand coalition government of 2008-2013, Moses Masika Wetang’ula, 63, led diplomatic efforts that resolved a visa standoff between Kenya and the United Arab Emirates.

The diplomatic tiff arose after UAE decreed that Kenyans going to or passing through Dubai (United Arab Emirates) would need a degree certificate to get a visa into the Arab country.

This was deemed to be in retaliation to the inadvertent deportation of a member of the royal family from Kenya.

In one of his finest diplomatic moments, Mr Wetang’ula led a delegation to Dubai where they had the requirement rescinded, only two weeks after it was imposed.

Perhaps it was during this meeting where Mr Wetang’ula was introduced to the high and mighty of the Emirati kingdom connections.

GOLD SCAM

This week, Mr Wetang’ula hit the news headlines again in relation to the UAE ruling family — but this time it was for the wrong reason.

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The Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) said that the Bungoma Senator was being investigated for his role in a gold scandal that saw the Dubai royal family lose Sh400 million.

A leaked audio in which a man purported to be Mr Wetang’ula is dropping the names of President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga to assure someone presumed to be a member of the royal family that all is well and that the gold consignment would be delivered, has thrust him to the centre of the scandal.

But even as the scandal unravels, Mr Wetang’ula has maintained a studious silence and did not respond to the Sunday Nation’s enquiries on Saturday.

Some of his aides have also claimed, off the record, that the voice on the leaked tape is not the senator’s and that the whole matter has been politicised to tarnish his image ahead of the 2022 general election.

BAT SCANDAL

The incident is just the most recent of several occasions on which Mr Wetang’ula has been mentioned adversely in controversial scandals throughout his lengthy political career.

In 2015, a BBC investigation claimed Mr Wetang’ula was among senior public officials and MPs from Kenya who were compromised by British American Tobacco Company to do business that favoured the tobacco manufacturer.

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The investigations claimed Mr Wetang’ula had received an air ticket and money to facilitate his travel to London from BAT while he was Trade minister in order to interfere with the country’s anti-smoking laws.

The Senator refuted the claims and went ahead to institute defamatory proceedings against the broadcaster.

In 2012, after widespread speculation and controversy, he admitted that his previous law firm was involved in the Sh800 million sale of oil blocks in Turkana. He, however, said he had left the law firm by the time.

FUNDS MISUSE

Before that, in 2010, Mr Wetang’ula was forced to step aside as Foreign minister amid a growing scandal involving the alleged misuse of his ministry’s funds for several land deals abroad.

While serving as the Foreign Affairs minister, Mr Wetang’ula is remembered for summoning two ambassadors in 2009 whom he thought had disrespected Kenya in one way or another.

He summoned the US Ambassador Michael Ranneberger and asked him to explain the last-minute cancellation of new Delta Air Lines flights to US via Dakar on security fears in Nairobi.

A year before that, he also summoned the United Kingdom ambassador to Kenya, Mr Adam Wood, seeking clarification over a remark made in the House of Commons that they did not recognise former President Mwai Kibaki as the Head of State.

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The Senator’s political career dates back to 1992 when he was nominated by Kanu as MP up to to 1997.

CAREER

He was later elected the MP Sirisia constituency, and since then Mr Wetang’ula has never lost in any political election up to his current senatorial position.

In 2014, the senator claimed that there was an attempt on his life after unknown people shot at his car on Mbagathi Way in Nairobi. The police discounted his version of events.

“If anyone wants a divorce it will be noisy, messy and unhelpful, and it will have causalities,” declared Mr Wetang’ula in March last year when ODM engineered to have him removed as the Senate Minority Leader.

A year down the line, things have turned noisy, messy for the Senator as a result of the alleged gold deal that has led to some arrests with the DCI naming him as a person of interest. All eyes are now on the senator, who remains tight-lipped.

Source: Nation.co.ke

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VIDEO: I failed and didn’t even make it to High School but look at me now, says media mogul SK Macharia

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Royal Media Services Chairman Samuel Kamau Macharia (SK) has disclosed that he did not do well in Primary School hence couldn’t make the cut to join High School.

Speaking during a prize-giving ceremony at Kahuhia Girls High School on Saturday, the billionaire businessman told the students that they can achieve anything if they put their mind to it.

Ha also disclosed that he worked as sweeper in the US in a bid to raise college tuition. Watch:

Samuel Kamau Macharia (born 1942, also known as S. K. Macharia) is the Kenyan Founder and Chairman of Royal Media Services, arguably the largest private radio and television network in Eastern Africa. Its flagship outlets are Citizen TV and Radio Citizen. In 2012, he was on a top 10 list by Forbes magazine of African millionaires to watch. Macharia was on the 2013 Africa Report of the 50 most influential Africans. He was honoured with the 2015 Eastern Africa Ernst and YoungEntrepreneur Lifetime Achievement Award.

Macharia joined Standard 1 in 1954 at Ndakaini Primary School. He was thereafter admitted at Gituru Intermediate School where he sat for the Kenya African Preliminary Examination (KAPE) in 1958. He taught as an untrained primary school teacher at Makomboki Primary School for a year before joining Kahuhia Teachers Training College. A two-year course at the college would see him qualify as a trained teacher (P3) and he was subsequently posted to Gituru Primary School in 1961.

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He applied for the Kennedy Airlifts and was accepted in the 1962 group. His family could not however raise the 4,000 shillings required for the plane ticket to the United States. He could only raise 1,200 shillings and had to travel for nearly 2 months by road from Kenya to Benghazi, Libya, where he took a ship to England and then a flight to the USA.

On arrival, he enrolled in Seattle Technical College and completed his high school education two years later. Macharia would later a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from Seattle Pacific University and a Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting from the University of Washington. He would then complete a Master of Science in Accounting/Finance, a Master of Arts in Accounting and was certified as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA).

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