It’s been two and a half years since a Scarborough child died mysteriously and another child became seriously ill after eating cereal.
Frances Ngugi, a friend of the mother of one of the children whose advances she had rejected, admitted in court that he had intentionally poisoned the children and took full responsibility for what he described as ” shameful and selfish act.”
After Ngugi pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in Superior Court Tuesday morning, the 47-year-old began reading a letter he had written for the mother of Bernice Wamala, the deceased’s mother.
As Ngugi began to apologize, Bernice’s mother’s screams drowned out her words and she collapsed to the floor.
The distraught woman was consoled by Crown prosecutors and victim and witness support workers. Ngugi’s letter was filed away before he could finish reading it.
According to an agreed statement of facts read in court, Ngugi, an asylum seeker from Kenya who arrived in Canada in 2018, began working as a janitor at Griffith Foods, a processing plant in Scarborough.
Griffith Foods processes meat products in its food processing operations using food-grade, 99 percent pure sodium nitrite chemicals. Sodium nitrite is toxic to humans. Although it comes in several forms, the formula used by Griffith Foods is a colorless, odorless crystalline powder.
In early 2019, Ngugi met Zahra Issa at an adult learning school. They became close friends in the summer of 2020 and began a romantic relationship in September 2020.
Issa arrived in Canada in 2018 and had a baby soon after, Samarah Sameer. At the time, Issa was still married to her husband, but he remained in Tanzania with the couple’s eldest daughter.
Ngugi loved Issa and her daughter and often visited their apartment in Scarborough, often bringing them food and offering to help Issa buy things for Samarah. He repeatedly asked Issa to engage with him and spend time together.
“Mr Ngugi quickly became obsessive and jealous in his love for Ms Issa, who often rebuffed his advances. Mr. Ngugi repeatedly became sullen and hostile when Ms. Issa did not return his affection,” the facts state.
Convinced that Issa was being dishonest about her history and marriage, Ngugi purchased a secret audio recorder online and installed it in Issa’s bedroom to spy on her, recording numerous private conversations without her knowledge or without his consent. He also viewed and saved screenshots on his phone from Issa’s husband’s social media accounts.
Throughout 2020 and early 2021, Ngugi continued to express his love for Issa and his desire for them to be a family. She continued to rebuff his advances, which further irritated Ngugi and fueled his obsession.
In late February 2021, employees working in the food packaging department of Griffith Foods, where Ngugi had recently been promoted to sanitation manager, noticed two broken 25kg bags of sodium nitrite, damaged during transport. Ngugi was given the task of cleaning up the chemical spill and disposing of the damaged sodium nitrite bags.
Ngugi’s supervisor warned him about the dangers of the chemical and advised him to avoid ingesting it or having it absorbed through the skin. He told Ngugi: “Francis, if you ingest less than a teaspoon of this, it will k**l you in an hour. »
According to the facts, Ngugi allegedly stole a quantity of sodium nitrite from his workplace and, in doing so, he knew that this substance was toxic for human consumption.
Ngugi knew that Issa had a stocked pantry with a number of breakfast items, including “Golden Morn” cereal that was stored in a Similac Baby Formula container. The container had a handwritten label on the top “Golden Morn”.
The court heard that in late winter 2021, Ngugi intended for Issa to eat cereal and become ill. “In the days leading up to the poisoning, Mr. Ngugi again renewed his marriage proposal to Ms. Issa and was rejected,” the facts read.
On the evening of March 6, 2021, while Ngugi was at Issa’s house, a neighbor, Maurine Mirembe, came by and asked Issa to watch her three-year-old daughter, Bernice Wamala. Issa agreed and Bernice stayed with them overnight. Ngugi knew that two young children were in the house, but nevertheless did not remove the sodium nitrite from the container containing the Golden Morn cereal.
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According to the facts, at around 5 a.m. on March 7, 2021, Ngugi left home to go to work and Issa gave the two children Golden Morn cereal for breakfast. In doing so, both children ate poisoned cereal containing sodium nitrite.
After eating the cereal, Bernice became seriously ill and was rushed to the hospital. Life-saving measures were attempted but were unsuccessful and she died after several seizures and two heart attacks. The cause of death was later determined to be methemoglobinemia, a deprivation of oxygen to the body’s cells.
Shortly after Bernice became ill, Issa’s daughter Samarah began exhibiting similar symptoms. She was also taken to hospital and treated. Samarah recovered after four days in hospital.
After the children fell ill, Ngugi rushed home to Issa’s apartment and went to the hospital with Issa and Samarah. He didn’t tell anyone that he put sodium nitrite in food in the house.
Police visited the hospital on March 7 as the investigation into the causes of the sudden illnesses of two otherwise healthy toddlers began. Ngugi spoke to the police and informed them that he had taken Samarah to the hospital and was dating Samarah’s mother. He denied knowing how the children could have become ill. In a subsequent interview with police upon his first arrest on June 19, 2021, Ngugi denied any knowledge of the chemical sodium nitrite or that it had been used at Griffith Foods.
Even after Bernice Wamala’s death and until his arrest in June 2021, Ngugi continued to profess his love for Issa. Issa was distraught over Bernice’s death and continued to push him away.
Before his arrest, the court also heard that Ngugi contacted the Tanzanian emba*sy and reported Issa’s husband as an immigrant living under a false identity. “He did this to cause legal problems for Ms. Issa’s husband and to prevent him from joining Issa in Canada.” Ngugi also contacted Samarah’s father via WhatsApp, introduced himself and told him that he was in love with his wife. The husband told Ngugi that he already knew about the affair and told Ngugi to leave him and his family alone.
Around May 2021, Issa ended her relationship with Ngugi for good.
Ngugi was arrested and charged the following month. On June 30, 2021, the charges were upgraded to murder and attempted murder of Bernice Wamala and Samarah Sameer. He has been in detention since his first arrest.
In the letter Ngugi wrote to Bernice Walmala’s mother, he called the little child an “angel.” I realize that I have not only taken a life, but I have taken away all the birthday parties, I have taken away the memories of his first day of school, of graduation, of friendships, to see her get married and have children. I stole (sic) all this joy from you.
A sentencing hearing will be held in November.