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More bodies exhumed in Shakahola

Wednesday, June 5th, 2024 03:19 | By
Multiagency team officers retrieve bodies recovered in graves at the Shakahola forest in Kilifi county on Monday. PHOTO/ Ronald Mwadzombo
Multiagency team officers retrieve bodies recovered in graves at the Shakahola forest in Kilifi county on Monday. PHOTO/ Ronald Mwadzombo

Seven bodies of suspected followers of cult leader Paul Mackenzie of Good News International Church were yesterday exhumed from the vast Shakahola Forest in Kilifi County following the resumption of the fifth phase of the recovery exercise.

The retrieval of the bodies from three gravesites raised the number of the victims to 436 since the operation kicked off on April last year.

Chief Government Pathologist Johansen Oduor confirmed that 50 graves have been identified and mapped for this latest phase of the exercise.

“We have identified three graves. In them, we were able to exhume seven bodies. One grave had four bodies, while the other three had one each. The exercise will go on until we finish up the exercise, we also identified about 50 more graves that we are going to work on,” he said.

He said the graves were identified easily because of the loose soil. “The loose soil helps us identify the graves. The exercise will go on as the government helps in identifying the bodies through DNA process.”

Mackenzie and his 93 followers including his wife are facing multiple charges including terrorism, radicalizing, murder, child cruelty among others at the Shimo la Tewa and Malindi law courts.

They are being held at Shimo la Tewa Prison in Mombasa in connection with the death of suspected cult followers believed to have fast to death allegedly to hasten their date with Jesus Christ.

He assured that by next month, the bodies held for analysis at the Malindi sub county hospital mortuary will be processed and released to family members for burial. “There was an issue with the Government Chemist regarding some reagents, but they have acquired them, so within the next month they will be able to analyze the bodies. As we exhume, we will be able to release the previous bodies to create space.”

DNA samples

Oduor urged the public to cooperate and allow the collection of their DNA samples should they suspect that a missing person known to them was a victim.

“This will enable us to match and identify the bodies effectively. The biggest challenge we are facing is people are not coming up to take their DNA, hindering our efforts to cross-check with the bodies we have at the mortuary.”

On Monday Chief Government pathologist Johansen Oduor said 50 mass graves have been identified in phase five of the exhumation.

The graves are located using the global positioning system (GPS).

The exhumation resumed after a six-month suspension in December 2023 to allow pathologists to conduct DNA tests on the remains recovered from Shakahola forest.

Out of the 34 positively identified bodies, the state has handed over 32 bodies to their families.

The two remaining bodies are of siblings and a further DNA test is required to establish their identity before being handed over to their families for burial.

Earlier, Coast Regional Commissioner Rhoda Onyancha said 610 people have been reported missing at the tracing centre.

Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki announced that the unclaimed bodies will be buried in Shakahola.

Prof Kindiki said that the state has compulsory possession of 4,000 acres of the Chakama ranch which will serve as the final resting place for victims that will not be claimed by their families.

The first bodies were discovered in April 2023 in the Shakahola forest near the Kenyan coast, leading to the arrest of pastor Paul Mackenzie who is alleged to have led his followers to starve themselves to death in order “to meet Jesus”.

Mackenzie has pleaded not guilty to 191 counts of murder, manslaughter and terrorism. He has also been charged with child torture and cruelty.

The case shocked Kenya, a largely Christian nation, and brought attention to the lack of regulation of churches and cults.

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