Autopsies begin on Kenyan cult members who starved to death

Kenyan authorities say they will check whether some of the 109 bodies recovered so far had missing organs.

Kenyan forensic experts and homicide detectives, dressed in white personal protective equipment, carry the bodies of suspected members of a Christian cult to waiting vehicles as part of an investigation.
Forensic experts and homicide detectives carry the bodies of suspected members of a Christian cult exhumed from graves in Shakahola Forest in Kenya on April 22, 2023 [Reuters]

Pathologists in Kenya have begun autopsies on more than 100 bodies linked to a religious cult whose leader allegedly had instructed them to starve themselves to death to be the first to go to heaven, officials say.

One hundred and nine followers of the Good News International Church, based in the Shakahola Forest of eastern Kenya, are known to have died. Authorities have recovered 101 bodies from shallow graves since April 21 while eight cult members were found alive but died later. So far, 44 people have been rescued.

Children account for most of the bodies recovered so far, Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki said on Friday.

“We are going to be doing the autopsies in teams,” Chief Government Pathologist Johansen Oduor, who is leading the postmortem examinations, said at a news conference on Monday, the day the autopsies began.

Oduor said the government was collecting DNA samples from those who had reported missing relatives and would do the matching in a process that would take at least a month.

Kindiki said the autopsies will look at all possibilities, including whether some bodies had missing organs.

The deaths amount to one of the worst cult-related tragedies in recent history, and the toll is expected to rise further with the Kenyan Red Cross saying more than 300 people have been reported missing.

The shocking discovery is being referred to as the Shakahola Forest Massacre by government officials.

Hussein Khalid, a member of Haki Africa, the rights group that tipped off the police to the actions of the church, told the AFP news agency that he believed some church members were still hiding from the authorities in the nearby forest.

“This signifies the magnitude of this issue that clearly shows that there are still many who are still out there … and possibly dying every second that passes by,” Khalid said.

He called on the government to send soldiers to help with the search so believers could be found before they starve themselves to death.

Cult leader Paul Mackenzie has been in police custody since April 14, held alongside 14 cult members. Local media have reported that he is refusing food and water.

Mackenzie has made no public comment. The Reuters news agency spoke to two lawyers acting for Mackenzie, but both declined to comment on the accusations against him.

On Sunday, President William Ruto said he would appoint a judicial commission of inquiry this week to investigate what happened in Shakahola.

Source: News Agencies