Ex-Mlolongo OCS and Westgate attack hero Stephen Lelei dies


• Chief Inspector Stephen Lelei died at the Kiambu Hospital on Saturday, June 15 after battling among others depression.

Ex-Mlolongo OCS and Westgate attack hero Stephen Lelei dies
Image: courtesy

A former senior police officer who was celebrated for freeing tens of people during the Westgate Mall attack is dead.

Chief Inspector Stephen Lelei died at the Kiambu Hospital on Saturday, June 15 after battling among others depression.

His family and friends said he developed depression which worsened in the past months.

This was after he was charged with the murder of two people in Mlolongo Town.

Lelei and his former colleague at Mlolongo police station Fredrick Leliman were charged that they killed Jacob Mwenda and Elizabeth Nduku in 2016 in Mlolongo Town.

Lelei and Leliman face an additional charge of unlawful use of a firearm contrary to Section 26 A (1) (a) of the Firearms Act.

Lelei was among nine police officers who were celebrated by the state for their heroic acts during the Westgate attack in 2013.

Leliman alongside four other police officers and an informant were convicted for the murder of human rights Lawyer Willie Kimani, his client Josephat Mwenda and driver Joseph Muiruri.

In the murder trial of Lelei for the two people, a ballistics expert said none of their pistols were used in the deaths of the victims. 

Lawrence Nthiwa, a firearms examiner told the court last year that the single bullet collected at the scene did not match either the pistol of Lelei or Leliman.

Appearing before the Machakos judge Margaret Muigai, Nthiwa said upon conducting tests on five pistols and four rifles submitted by the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA), the results turned negative.

Mwenda and Nduku died on May 27, 2016 under unclear circumstances.

Police in Mlolongo said they might have been hit by a stray bullet as they pursued a suspected robber whom they killed. 

IPOA opened an inquiry and recommended that Lelei and Leliman be charged.

For Lelei, he was a dedicated officer who rose through the ranks to reach the level of the station commander.

When he was arrested and charged with the murder, he had been moved to Nairobi Area command.

Lelei had also served as an OCS in Mlolongo, Industrial Area, Pangani, Soweto and Kabete.

During his rein at Kabete, he was praised for containing crime that had risen to a worse level.

Before the September 21, 2013, terrorist attack on Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Lelei was a station commander at Kabete.

But he shot to fame after the attack as he was one of the nine police officers feted for their bravery in confronting the gunmen, who killed 67 people in the raid.

Lelei, nicknamed Ocampo — after the former no-nonsense International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo - was among police officers decorated with a Silver Star (SS) recognition by former President Uhuru Kenyatta.

He was on patrol in the area when he heard there were thieves at the Mall and decided to go and confront them only to realize they were hardened terrorists.

As one of the first armed responders, he had taken up the role of commander as he was the senior-most officer on site at the time.

During the attack, he was shot in the right leg as he led a hastily assembled team of officers in the battle against the heavily armed terrorists.

Still, he soldiered on until reinforcements arrived from the General Service Unit, Regular and Administration Police and the Kenya Defence Forces.

Lelei was later transferred to Busia as the officer in charge of the weighbridge before returning to Nairobi's Industrial Area Police Station.

Later, he was deployed to Mlolongo as the area police commander, where he cracked down on highway robbers targeting transit-goods vehicles, as well as commercial sex workers, illicit brewers and murderers.

A year after the Westgate Mall attack, the policeman was in the news after his wife Matrida Muroso died of severe burns when their car caught fire at 3 am on Thika Road near Safari Park Hotel.

The couple was driving on the highway when the car suddenly caught fire and Lelei jumped out.

His wife did not escape.

Before his death, he looked frail and stressed. His friends and colleagues termed him a good man who meant well but was misunderstood by few people.

He would call to say hello and insist he did not kill the two people he was accused of.

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