The death toll of a Kenyan cult that practiced starvation has climbed to 201, as search teams on Saturday, May 13 recovered 22 more bodies from a coastal forest, the Kenyan government has revealed.
According to Kenyan police, most of the bodies found in a forest near the Indian Ocean town of Malindi belong to followers of Paul Nthenge Mackenzie, a taxi driver-turned-preacher who is accused of inciting his church members to starve to death “to meet Jesus”.
The 50-year-old founder of the Good News International Church turned himself in on April 14 after police acting on a tip-off first entered Shakahola forest.
Coast Regional Commissioner Rhoda Onyancha, who announced the latest figures, said 26 people have been arrested over the deaths, including Mackenzie and an “enforcer gang” tasked with ensuring that no one broke their fast or left the forest hideout alive.
She said investigators would stop exhumations for two days to reorganize their efforts, till next week Tuesday.
A court on Wednesday ordered Mackenzie to be detained for three more weeks pending further investigations over what has been dubbed the “Shakahola Forest Massacre”.
While starvation appears to be the main cause of death, some of the victims including children were strangled, beaten or suffocated, according to chief government pathologist Johansen Oduor.
Court documents filed on Monday this week said some of the corpses had their organs removed, with police alleging the suspects were engaged in forced harvesting of body parts.
Questions have been raised about how Mackenzie, a father of seven, managed to evade law enforcement for years despite a history of extremism and previous legal cases.
President William Ruto has since set up a commission of inquiry into the deaths and a task force to review regulations governing religious bodies.