Fr. William. A Victim of Sacrificial Killing

He was found lying face down in the grass. His arms and hands were crossed to support his head. He had been shot through the back with two bullets. Beneath him, the ground was still moist with his blood. There were no witnesses. Father William was only thirty-one years of age. 

William Nyadru was born at Pakele in North-western Uganda on March 28th 1960, the eldest of four children. At twelve years of age he expressed the desire to become a priest and entered the Diocesan Junior Seminary in Pokea. After A-Levels he was admitted to the Major Seminary in Alokolum to study philosophy as a candidate for the Diocese of Arua. 

It was in Alokolum that he became increasingly attracted to the idea of becoming a missionary priest and decided her would join the Comboni Missionaries. But it was not easy. The Rector and Staff did not want him to leave. Finally, William eventually obtained permission, thanks to his persistence and determination. During the years of initial formation, first in the Postulancy in Gulu and later in the Novitiate in Namugongo, William was greatly admired by all those who came into contact with him, for his sharp intellect and wit, his openness and obliging nature, and his pleasant company. 

After his First Vows in Namugongo, William went to study theology at the Gregorian University in Rome from 1984 to 1987. From there, at the request of his Superiors, he went to take a Master’s Degree in Journalism at City University in London. On August 20th 1988 he was ordained a priest in an open-air Mass in his home Mission of Moyo in the North-western Uganda.

A few months later he was assigned to the Mission of Morulem in Eastern Karamoja to gain some pastoral experience before being appointed editor of Leadership Magazine, a monthly magazine founded and run by the Comboni Missionaries in Uganda. In a letter dated January 26th 1989, he wrote, “I have just arrived at the Mission of Morulem among the Labwor and have already started learning their language, Lebthur. It is a relatively easy language to learn, similar to Acholi. However, Lebthur has some significant variations from Acholi due to the linguistic and cultural impact of the neighbouring ethnic groups – the Langi, the Teso and the Karimojong. I have just started to get to know the people and the Parish.” 

It was early morning on Friday 25th October 1991, when Father William said to one of his Confrères that he intended to go to Moroto to collect the tithe forms which were ready at the Diocesan Printing Press and needed for distribution to people at Church on the following Sunday. Moroto was about a hundred miles away.

The road from the Morulem to Moroto branches in two: with one way going through Matany, and the other through Lopei and then joining the Kotido-Moroto road. The way through Matany became impassable in the rainy season while the road through Lopei, although longer, always remained in fairly good condition despite the weather. 

It was not the first time William had gone to Moroto by motorcycle. It is just a few hours’ away and one can leave Morulem in the morning and be back by the afternoon. For years nothing had ever happened along that road. No one had ever been robbed. So Father William set off from Morulem without any apprehension, expecting to be back home in the early afternoon.

However, by evening, he had not returned. The Confrères began to worry. Before the advent of mobile phones almost all the Missions had a radio transmitter that was used for communicating. At the usual 8:30 p.m. ‘radio call’, the Confrères in Morulem called the Missions of Matany, Kangole and Moroto enquiring as to the whereabouts of Father William. They all said they had not seen him. It was night-time and some parts of the road were flooded by the recent heavy rains. It was agreed that early the next morning three search parties of Missionaries would set out from Morulem, Matany and Moroto to look for him. 

At 1:00 p.m. the group travelling from Moroto to Morulem through Lopei found tyre marks on the road where a motorcycle had evidently stopped abruptly. On the right side of the road the tall grass had been trampled upon. About fifty yards from the side of the road, the Missionaries found the motorcycle of Father William in a clearing, undamaged and with the key still in the ignition. The engine started at once. A few yards away, they found his helmet. A few moments later one of the party, Sister Sylvia Pisetta cried out, “William! William!”.

Fifty yards further on, about one hundred yards from the road, they found the body of Father William lying in the grass. He had been stripped naked, except for his underwear. His arms and hands were crossed supporting his head which was face down. One foot was crossed over the other. It appeared that Father William had been forced to take that position by three individuals who had then stood over him as was apparent from the clearly visible sets of footprints around the body. 

The Missionaries laid the body of Father William on a stretcher and carried him to St. Kizito Mission Hospital in Matany where many of the Staff commented on the serenity of his countenance. One of the doctors there confirmed that the heart of Father William had been pierced by two bullets which had entered through his back as he was lying on the ground. He had evidently been shot at very close range as there were scorch marks on the skin where the bullets had entered. The body was taken to the Church in the Mission of Morulem. The Local Bishop, Denis Kiwanuka, celebrated the Funeral Mass the following day with many of the Faithful present despite the recent heavy rainfall. Father William was then taken to the Mission of Moyo in North-western Uganda where he was laid to rest in the cemetery there with fellow Comboni Missionaries.

The footprints around the body of Father William indicated that the killers were three in number. Why did they force the Father to lie prostrate on the ground? Karimojong warriors traditionally ‘shoot to kill’ without compelling the intended victim to lie down or to take a particular posture. One theory was that the killers were former soldiers, given the tendency of such individuals in Uganda’s recent past to humiliate civilians who fell into their hands by forcing them to kneel or bow down before them. 

A Comboni Missionary, who had worked in Karamoja for many years, commented: “We cannot exclude the possibility of a ritual execution in the case of Father William. This was the explanation put forward by a number of the Faithful around Matany. A few weeks before, a local witchdoctor had apparently decreed to a group of warriors that the sacrifice of a person travelling by motorcycle was required to ensure the success of the cattle raid they were planning against the neighbouring Matheniko ethnic group. Several details support such a theory: the killing took place in the bush far from any homestead or village, the victim was stripped naked and forced to lie face down on the ground and the motorcycle and helmet were left untouched close by. The police and the army did not attempt to investigate the murder so perhaps we will never know the truth”.