On Saturday July 24, 2010, Robinah Kirumira, wife to city businessman Godfrey Kirumira, rushed to her microwave after a brief phone call.
She was not hurrying to get food that was burning in the machine, but to get clues on horrible news she has just received.
Robinah had just received a phone call from a strange man that he had kidnapped her four-year-old grandson, Keiden King Lubowa, and that he had a message for her in the microwave.
Neatly placed in the corner of the heating machine was a note with a message: “Pay us Shs200 million ransom or we kill Keiden.”
The message overwhelmed Robinah. She picked up her phone and called Patrick Lubowa, her son-in-law who is also father to Keiden, and broke the news.
“I nearly lost control of the car I was driving,” said Lubowa, an engineer. He says he made a U-turn and drove back home. One of the first people he called was his father-in-law Kirumira.
On getting the bad news, Kirumira abandoned his work. He had two options: either fork out the Shs200 million and pay the ransom, or inform the police.
“I telephoned the Inspector General of Police, Gen Kale Kayihura, and narrated to him the problems that had befallen us,” Kirumira recalls. But time was running out.
Due to the seriousness of the crime, Gen Kayihura handed over the case to Assistant Inspector General of Police Abbas Byakagaba, an expert in counter-terrorism.
“We had to start from square one by first of all understanding the most basics. Who was in charge of the child at the time it went missing and who were the likely culprits,” Byakagaba says.
The officers reconstructed the scene and Solange Nyiransabimana, the maid, was pictured everywhere.
Nyiransabimana, whom the family had hired from a company in town a month before the incident, was nowhere to be seen. Not only didn’t the family members know her real name at the time, but they did not have any of her photographs to help the police with her search.
Efforts to contact the maid on her known mobile phone were futile. Kirumira’s family could hardly believe that the maid could be part of the crime.
The first day ended without any meaningful progress.
But the detectives had one challenge. They needed a court order to get a printout of the telephone contacts of the suspects, but it being a weekend, courts were closed.
“The printout could help us know where the maid and the kidnappers where and who they had contacted,” one of the detectives on the case said.
Without a court order, it meant that the detectives would only start work the next day, Monday, when the courts would be open. But the Kirumira’s could not wait another day for their grandson to be rescued.
The detectives had to circumvent the bureaucracy and in no time, they had a court order which they presented to the telecom companies to secure a telephone printout.
The police officers made printouts of the maid’s mobile phone number and the mobile phone number writing on the chit left in the microwave and they were constant contacts between the two.
To the family, the evidence had brought them closer to finding their son, but to the police, it was a very serious and complicated incident.
“In cases where the culprits are known and they know that they are known, it means that they have made a decision and are ready to do everything, including killing, to ensure that their demands are met,” a senior detective, who was involved in the investigation of the case, later said.
Secondly, the officers discovered another hurdle. The maid, Nyiransabimana, was not a Ugandan and there were chances that she could run out of the country, making the rescue mission more difficult and costly.
The only hope they were holding on to was to know where the suspects were. “We didn’t know whether the suspect who wanted to pick the money was in the same vicinity with the victim and it was getting late,” the detective said.
Early on Sunday July 25, 2010, the detectives started making calls to numbers they found on the printouts with the hope of finding anyone linked to the suspects.
Interestingly, one of the leading detectives dialled the number of the suspect’s phone and it went through. The detective immediately tricked him into wanting to do business with him.
The person they contacted was so cooperative, thinking that he was dealing with genuine people. The suspects call was made from Monitor Publications Limited premises.
What a relief! They thought they were closing in on the culprit.
That Sunday afternoon, the detectives stormed the Monitor premises bent on arresting the suspect.
However, it turned out to be a huge disappointment. The person they had been contacting all along was the wrong one. On crosschecking the initial telephone printout, the detectives discovered that they had dialled a wrong phone number, thus ending up in a wrong place and with a wrong person.
Embarrassed, they withdrew from the Monitor offices and started their investigations afresh.
But at 6pm, something strange happened. Nyiransabimana boldly sent a text message to Keiden’s parents claiming responsibility for the kidnap and wanted the ransom.
Nyiransabimana also said she was in Bukoto, a Kampala suburb, and was preparing to travel back to Burundi if the ransom was not sent on time.