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Kenyan nurse murdered in USA loved working with mentally challenged patients

By Winnie Mabel October 24th, 2022 4 min read

In 1997, at the invitation of her brother, Josphat Sagero, 19-year-old June Nyomenda Sagero flew to New York, United States of America in search of education and job opportunities.

“June was a visionary, she believed in family, both her family and members of our family. She supported us in everything that we wanted to do. She supported the education of our brothers as well as our nieces and nephews,” Mr Sagero told Nairobi News on October 21, 2022.

The eighth out of 10 siblings and the last-born daughter, June excelled at her secondary education at Makueni Girls before joining Kisumu Medical College to pursue a Diploma in Nursing.

That was before she proceeded to the United States of America where she furthered her studies in nursing up to the Masters level.

“She really believed in mental health. She believed that even though people were sick mentally, they needed to be listened to. That was her passion. We were all raised in Kitale and our family had an employee from Uganda back then. He had been shot in the head but he was so good to us (in spite of his health problem). It was from this interaction that June decided from then on, she would have to deal with people who are depressed and mentally challenged,” added Mr Sagero.

Mr Sagero went on to explain he invited June to America because he knew nursing paid really well and had far much more opportunities to study and pursue medicine than Kenya did in the 1990s. He said that by the time they decided that June should leave the country, no university was offering a degree in nursing and the program was yet to be established.

In the USA, June studied and lived well. She was able to put herself through school, bought a home, got married and had her children. The late June was married to Mr Onkundi Nywabwari and together they resided in North Carolina with their four children- one boy and three girls- all aged between 9 and 16 years.

All four children were born in the USA. Mr Sagero said that Mr Nyabwari was a good husband and the couple were happy and loved each other. They were a staunch Christian family and they believed in each other.

However, tragedy struck their family when June was murdered on October 19, 2022, by one of her patients while working in her office at the Freedom Recovery Center. The Center provides treatment for people suffering mental health issues and addiction.

American media reported that North Carolina’s Durham Police Department responded to a disturbance with a weapon emergency at 1:40PM on that fateful day. They arrived at the address to discover June had been stabbed by James Gomes, 47, who was still at the scene of the crime when the police arrived. She was rushed to the hospital but succumbed.

“We were called by family members of June’s husband. I had just finished attending the funeral of the honorable Chepkut and I wanted to fly back to Nairobi. The call came in and I was told that my sister had passed on. For now as the family, we shall go with what her husband says. This will take some time as my brother in law was hospitalized because his blood pressure shot up from the shock of the tragedy. We are waiting for him to be discharged,” said a grief-stricken Mr Sagero.

In the days leading up to the tragedy, Mr Sagero intimated that June had been in very good moods and had been helping out in the treatment of one of her brothers who was depressed and hospitalized for two weeks. She paid for her brother’s National Hospital Insurance Fund contributions in order to allow him to get treatment. She had also preparing to undertake a PhD in mental health.

“I was even telling my mother today that she should not stress herself about burial arrangements because if my late sister’s husband decides that she will be buried in the US, I told my mother that would be better because we do not want to traumatize the kids. There will be no need for them to come and bury her in Kenya, leave her here and return back home to the US. According to the Kisii tradition, when a lady is married and the dowry was paid, it’s not for us to decide. It is the family of the husband that decides where she will be buried. My mother told me that if June’s husband decides it is America, she will have no objection. I explained to her the situation and she agreed because I was thinking that if the kids wanted to visit their mum on Memorial Day and put flowers on her grave, it would be in order,” concluded Mr Sagero.

The late June was murdered by Gomes, a man with a criminal history of harassing women. American media further reported that the suspect had spent more than a third of his life in prison for five previous convictions related to violence against women including kidnapping, attempted rape and assault by strangulation. He is being held in jail without bond.

The motive behind his killing the late June Onkundi remains unknown.

The North Carolina Nurses Association (NCNA) paid tribute to June, describing her as a person dedicated to helping others.

“We should all be proud of the positive impact she had on some of the most vulnerable patients. Her loss has shaken the nursing profession throughout North Carolina. Violence in the workplace is one of the greatest challenges facing nurses, and the problem has grown exponentially over the last few years. It is my desperate hope that June Onkundi’s death serves as a turning point and that those of us in healthcare can truly begin to address this problem,” said Meka Douhit Ingram, the President of NCNA.

A Go Fund Me page was set up in America to help raise funds in preparation for her funeral.

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