Gulu, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | A week after the death of Gabriel Rwotomiya 17, a senior three-student of Gulu Central High School in Gulu city, new details have emerged on the circumstances that led to his shooting. Rwotomiya was found dead on a tree branch within the school compound on March 6 at about 8:30 pm shortly after security personnel fired live bullets to quell a student’s strike.
The students rampaged after the school management stopped the live broadcast of the Manchester derby. Police said in a statement that the security personnel fired nine bullets in the process of calming down the protest and a stray bullet hit the deceased killing him instantly.
But some students who witnessed the incident, say their colleague was deliberately gunned down. A student who didn’t want his identity revealed for fear of reprisals, says that the chaos ensued after teachers stopped them from watching a match between Manchester United and Manchester City. He says they were told the football match was late and instead advised to read books.
According to the source, the decision angered some students who reacted by pelting stones at the window panes and rooftops. They were later allowed to watch the football match to minimize the damage. He however notes that while normalcy had returned, security personnel comprising the army and police intervened triggering more unrest from the students.
“When the soldiers came, students began rioting and destroying the school bus, breaking window glasses, the computer lab and even attempting to loot the school canteen,” he said. He says the soldiers started beating up students forcing many to scatter for safety.
He says in the process, two students all in senior three climbed a mango tree for safety while others jumped over the school perimeter wall to escape. “I witnessed how the soldier shone a torchlight at one of the students who was atop the mango tree. He begged the soldier not to shoot him and allow him to climb down but the soldier shot his head, he fell from the treetop but got stuck on one of the branches,” he narrated.
He says the incident infuriated the students who caused more destruction prompting the security personnel to fire live bullets to disperse them. Caroline Alarokuma, the deceased’s mother also reiterates that some students who approached her home to condole with the family testified that the shooting was intentional.
Alarokuma says whereas the police indicate that her son died from a stray bullet, the postmortem report indicates the bullet penetration could have been from short range. She notes that the postmortem shows the deceased was shot on the left backside and the bullet followed the spinal cord and exited through the lower jaw, causing the victim to bleed to death. Alarokuma says she is dissatisfied with the police reports and demands more investigations and relevant reports from the school authorities.
Dr. David Onen, the Director of Gulu Central High School says that the management is set for a dialogue with the deceased family to help them pursue justice for their loss. Onen also reveals that they will be submitting their incident report to the Resident City Commissioner’s office on what exactly happened.
Highly placed security sources who intervened at the school on the fateful evening told Uganda Radio Network in an interview that the event leading to the shooting of the student could have been avoided.
One source noted that preliminary investigations indicated that the soldier who fired the bullet that killed the student was drunk at the time of his action but was allowed to intervene in quelling the chaos.
According to the source, the security personnel comprising the police and army also acted unprofessionally and subjected the students to harsh punishment in a bid to subdue them. “We got reports that they (army and policemen) roughed up the students badly, some students were subjected to long minutes of frog jumps while the defenceless girls were slapped by some of the officers,” he said.
Denis Odongpiny, the Gulu Resident City Commissioner says that further investigations will be conducted to establish the circumstances that led to the shooting of the student. Odongpiny called on those with new information on the shooting to register the matter with the police.
The Fourth Infantry Division Spokesperson, Capt. Hassan Ahmed Kato says two soldiers have since been arrested following the incident, adding that they will appear before the court-martial once investigations are complete.
The suspects are Private Denise Ochora, and Lt. John Oryema currently being detained at the Fourth Infantry Division barracks in Gulu city. Brigadier Bonny Bamwiseki, the Fourth Infantry Division Commander in an earlier interview with URN faulted security personnel for intervening and firing live bullets within the school premises at night.
Over the weekend, the school management with the assistance of some cultural leaders conducted a cleansing ritual on the mango tree where Rwotomiya was shot dead before it was uprooted and burnt.