Kenyan officials have exhumed 21 bodies during an investigation into a cult whose followers are believed to have starved themselves.
On Thursday, homicide detectives marked patches of dirt with sticks and yellow tape in Shakahola Forest in Kilifi province, near the site where police rescued 15 members of the Good News International Church last week, according to footage broadcast by Citizen TV. Four of them died before reaching the hospital.
Officials previously reported seven deaths in eastern Kenya in connection with the arrest of Makenzie Nthenge, a pastor who reportedly told followers to starve themselves to “meet Jesus.”
“In total we have 21 bodies as of yesterday,” a police source on condition of anonymity told AFP, referring to excavations in the Shakahola forest outside the coastal town of Malindi.
The church’s leader, Mackenzie, was arrested following a tip that also suggested shallow graves of at least 31 of Mackenzie’s followers.
Kenyan officials have exhumed 21 bodies during an investigation into a cult whose followers are believed to have starved themselves
Forensic experts and homicide detectives carry the bodies of suspected members of a Christian sect called Good News International Church, who believed they would go to heaven if they starved themselves, after their remains were exhumed from their graves in Shakahola Forest in Kilifi province. , Kenya
Mackenzie’s attorney was not immediately available for comment.
“We haven’t even scratched the surface yet, which is a clear indication that we’re likely to get more bodies by the end of this exercise,” the source added.
Another police source confirmed the same toll, also on condition of anonymity.
Among the victims are at least three children, according to one of the sources.
Nthenge, leader of the Good News International Church, turned himself in to police and was charged last month, according to local media, after two children died of starvation in the care of their parents.
He was initially released on bail of 100,000 Kenyan shillings ($700).
But police arrested Nthenge on April 15 after discovering the bodies of four followers he allegedly told them to starve themselves to “meet Jesus.”
The case will go to court on May 2 with a first hearing on Monday.
“This pastor will have to face all these charges even though he has gone on a hunger strike saying he is praying and fasting in custody,” a police source said.
On Friday, Kenyan police said they had exhumed three more bodies.
Eleven other Church followers — seven men and four women, ages 17 to 49 — were taken to hospital, three of them in critical condition, after being rescued on April 14.
Police raided the forest after receiving information about the deaths of “unwitting citizens who died of starvation under the pretense of meeting Jesus after being brainwashed” by Nthenge.
Local media reported that six Nthenge employees were also arrested.
Titus Katana, a former member of the Church, helped police identify the graves.
“We showed the graves to the police and, moreover, we saved the life of a woman who had only a few hours to live or else she would have been dead,” Katana told Citizen TV.
Matthew Shipeta of Haki Africa, a human rights organization, said he had seen at least 15 shallow graves in the forest.
Officials previously reported seven deaths in eastern Kenya in connection with the arrest of Makenzie Nthenge, a pastor who allegedly told followers to starve themselves to ‘meet Jesus’
Helen Mikali, the manager of a children’s home who also helped investigators, said she had visited several nearby villages where parents and children had disappeared.
“I personally visited about 18 children’s graves,” Mikali told Citizen TV. She did not say how she knew the graves contained the remains of children.
Last month, police arrested and later released Mackenzie, who they identified as Paul Nthenge Mackenzie, for encouraging the parents of two boys to starve and suffocate their children.
At trial in that case, Nthenge said he was unaware of the events leading up to the deaths of the two boys, adding that he was the target of hostile propaganda from some of his former colleagues, The Standard newspaper reported. .