Over 100 worshippers are feared Dead in connection with a religious leader who told his Church members to fast (starve themselves) and kill their children to ‘meet Jesus,’ local officials say.
Local Police confirmed on Saturday that at least 21 bodies have been recovered so far from shallow graves in the Shakahola forest near Malindi, a coastal town about 100 kilometers northeast of Mombasa Kenya. Many are believed to be children.
In one grave, investigators found the bodies of three children with their father on one side and their mother on the other side. Another grave contained the bodies of a woman and a girl, both facing each other. All appeared to have died in recent weeks.
Police have identified at least 58 suspected graves on the grounds of the Good News International Church, raising fears that the death toll will rise significantly. One Kenyan media outlet reported that more than 100 people may have been buried in the graves.
indication that we are likely to get more bodies by the end of this exercise,” a police source told the AFP news agency.
15 members of the church were previously rescued but four of them died before reaching the hospital. Those four are likely in addition to the 21, which would raise the death toll to at least 25. Other followers fled when police arrived and have not yet been found.
The investigation began in late March when two boys were found dead after being starved and then suffocated by their parents. A tip led police to Pastor Paul Mackenzie Nthenge, who allegedly gave them ‘advice’ on how to go to heaven and meet Jesus.
“We went for an operation in Shakahola after receiving information that there is a person who is radicalizing people – or rather brainwashing people – that they should starve their children to death so that they can see God in the future,” police investigator Charles Kamau said after the pastor’s arrest in late March.
Mackenzie and six of his followers remain in police custody, but the cult leader is now on a hunger strike himself. “He has not taken even a glass of water,” a police source told the Daily Nation newspaper on Saturday.
Mackenzie, who previously told a reporter that “education is evil,” was also arrested in 2017 after police raided his church and rescued more than 90 children, some of whom described his teachings as satanic while others defended him with quotes from the Bible. Mackenzie was later released and moved his church to Shakahola.