Weeping families await bodies of murdered Kenya students

NAIROBI (AFP) - Quietly weeping, families desperate for news of sons and daughters feared killed at the Kenya university massacre by Islamist gunmen wait for hours at a morgue in the capital Nairobi.

Cargo planes carrying corpses were flown Friday afternoon from the northeastern town of Garissa to Nairobi after the day-long killing spree on Thursday by Somalia's Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab insurgents.

"I cannot talk," were the last whispered words from Salome, a 20-year-old economics student, to her father Peter Wainaina, about an hour into the attack. Then she hung up.

Wainaina, 72, called her after receiving a terrible text message: "Al-Shebab is killing us. Goodbye. If we don't make it, I loved you all.

"After that I tried later but her phone was off," he said sadly. "Since then I have no news - I called the registrar of the university, but he could not give any information." He waits beside around a hundred others, sitting in tents erected on the morgue car park, waiting in sombre, dignified silence, some quietly weeping.

Inside, 20 bodies lie on on stretchers on the ground, in front of the doors of refrigerated cabinets.

Draped with a sheet, their faces are revealed: 11 men on one side, nine women on the other.

The attack on Thursday at the university in the northeastern town of Garissa was Kenya's deadliest attack since the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi, and the bloodiest ever by the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Shebab.

"I tried to call him but the phone was out of contact, I tried to contact him all day," said John Nyang'au Masiria, a 36-year old casual labourer, describing his desperate hope he may still find his younger brother Josh alive.

Josh was a mathematics student in Garissa University.

In small groups, families enter a room, looking at images of the faces' of the bodies, screened on a television, to see if they recognise the dead.

For some, the long wait ends in screams and tears, breaking the heavy silence outside.

In small tents, Kenya Red Cross workers and church groups try to comfort those relatives who collapse.

Felix Barasa, 49, an accountant, waits for news of his 21-year old daughter Diane, who was studying to be a teacher.

He rushed to the morgue after a relative thought she saw the body of Diane - but Barasa said they had made a mistake, and still remains hopeful.

"I talked to her the night before the attack... when I woke up in the morning, I tried to call her but it was not ringing," he said.

"I'm still having hope - she may be in the hospital or somewhere in the bush."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.