ABUJA, Nigeria—Kenyan long-distance runner Agnes Tirop, who was found dead at her home in the western Kenya town of Iten on Oct. 13, had threatened to divorce her husband and suspected killer weeks before her death, sources who knew her closely told The Daily Beast.
Tirop was found with stab wounds in her abdomen and neck after the family of her husband, Ibrahim Rotich, reported to police that he had phoned them crying and asking for God’s forgiveness for something he had done. Her neighbors said she was in an abusive marriage and was desperate to get out of the union.
“She kept complaining about her husband being violent towards her,” Stella, one of Tirop’s neighbors, told The Daily Beast. “Agnes [Tirop] feared that one day her husband would kill her, and that’s exactly what happened.”
The Daily Beast has changed the names of sources commenting on Tirop’s marriage and personal life at their request.
Tirop, who won bronze medals in the women’s 10,000 meters at the 2017 and 2019 world championships and finished fourth in the 5,000 meters at the Tokyo Olympics this August, was said to have had a fractured marriage. According to Stella, both the athlete and her husband frequently fought in their home and the couple’s family members had, on a few occasions, waded in to try to settle disputes between the two.
“She had said she left Iten earlier than expected to Kenya’s training camp ahead of the [Tokyo] Olympic Games because her husband had physically abused her,” said Stella. “She reluctantly returned to Iten [this October] after some of her friends pressured her to return to her husband.”
Rotich, Tirop’s husband, who had been on the run shortly after his wife’s death, was arrested in the city of Mombasa on Oct. 14 while trying to flee the country and is set to be charged for his wife’s murder. Those who live close to his Iten home believe he may have murdered his wife on Oct. 11, two days before her body was found.
“I heard screams from their apartment on the night of October 11 and I became worried that Agnes [Tirop] was being attacked by her husband,” Ruth, another of the late athlete’s neighbors, told The Daily Beast. “She didn’t step out of her house the following day and that made me begin to think she might be in distress.”
Tirop had reportedly told family members and close friends that she faced constant abuse from Rotich and feared she might be killed by her husband. It was for that reason that her neighbors were worried when no one saw or heard from her the day after her face-off with Rotich.
“Everyone was concerned about Agnes [Tirop],” said Ruth. “We knew she was in a difficult marriage and we were always worried about her.”
Suspicion that Tirop may have been killed on Oct. 11 was also echoed by a close family member.
According to a local report, Tirop’s younger sister, Everlyne Chepng’etich, who lived with the couple, also heard screams from the master bedroom on the same night and became worried about her sister. The following morning, Chepng’etich asked Rotich about Tirop and Rotich said she was fine. Rotich then sent Chepng’etich to the market to buy meat and then called her hours later to tell her not to come back home, claiming that both he and Tirop had left for Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi. A disturbed Chepng’etich informed her parents that Tirop was missing. Her parents then reported the matter to the Iten Police Station.
Tirop’s family now believe that the athlete, who broke the world record in last month’s women-only 10-kilometer road race in Germany, was killed in a plot that could have been hatched during the Tokyo Olympics, after it was discovered that the ownership of several of her properties had changed while she was participating in the Games.
“There are a total of 12 plots, which have since changed ownership,” Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper quoted Jeremiah Sawe, a spokesperson for Tirop’s family, as saying. “The suspect has made the property his and we believe the deceased was not aware, or was under duress.”
Tirop’s family members, who said they were “now convinced she was killed because of her wealth,” also discovered that there “are no documents for several vehicles bought by the athlete and, shockingly, another [of Tirop’s] cars is registered under one of the suspect’s friends,” according to Sawe.
Tirop was buried in Iten on Saturday—the day she would have turned 26—at a funeral attended by over 1,000 mourners, including fellow athletes. Her devastated family, who want justice for the athlete, could hardly muster the strength to speak about her death.
“I don’t have much to say for today: I have mourned, I have cried, all my tears are gone,” Dinah Tirop, the late athlete’s mother, said. “I give my daughter her final send-off and I ask God to give her her place.”