Thérèse Déchade Kapangala Mwanza was the firstborn in a family of six. She was shot dead by the police on the doorstep of the Saint Francois de Sales parish in Kinshasa on 21 January 2018. On that day, Saint Francois de Sales parish had organized a peaceful demonstration to call for the implementation of 31 December Agreement 2016 – an agreement meant to facilitate a smooth organization of the general elections in DRC after the country missed the Constitutional deadline of November 2016.
Her uncle, Father Joseph Musubao, was officiating the mass that day. At the end, he announced to the churchgoers that those who wish to join other catholic parishes in a peaceful march should wait for a debriefing with the Lay Coordinating Committee (CLC) representatives before the march could begin. The debriefing included instructions to stay peaceful and not respond with violence to the police. The march started with few altar boys on the front, one carrying a cross, followed by the priest and his assistants and the congregants behind singing hymns and praying. Thérèse was marching alongside her uncle. About 20 meters from the church, the peaceful demonstration was stopped and violently dispersed by the police. They tried two more times, each time, they received the same treatment from the police. Father Joseph asked congregants to take cover in the church and the parish compound. The police continued throwing teargas at the congregants in the parish compound.
Thérèse stepped in to help wash a child’s face as they were suffering from teargas. In the meantime, a police armored vehicle had been positioned at the closed gate of the parish. On top of the vehicle, a hooded officer with a machine gun. The gate had obscured the police’s sight of the compound. Eyewitnesses outside the compound told Amnesty that the police in the armored vehicle adjusted the height of the seat for the officer with the machine gun to have a better view of the compound.
The officer fired live bullets into the compound full of congregants recovering from inhalation of teargas. Witness accounts and images seen and verified by Amnesty International showed scenes of panic and despair.
One of the bullets went through Thérèse’s torso from the right side and touched her left arm as it got out. A doctor who was present at the mass and the demonstration tried in vain to resuscitate her.
A day after her death, the family was prevented from embalming her body. It took two weeks for the Superior Military Prosecutor to provide authorization for her body to be given to the family. A team of inspectors was sent to the crime scene to investigate after 13 days. To date, no report has been provided on their investigation.
Thérèse was laid to rest on 9 February 2018. She was due to join the Sainte Famille de Bergame’s congregation as a nun in July that year. Her family has received death threats for publicly calling for accountability for her death.
The family has lodged two complaints in an effort to seek justice, including one against the Police Commissioner for Kinshasa, Sylvano Kasongo. Authorities are yet to genuinely investigate these complaints and prosecute the responsible for the killing of Thérèse.