Shakahola cult autopsy: some victims had underlying health conditions

Grave site of dead worshipers at the farm of Paul Mackenzie of Good News International at Shakahola, Malindi in Kilifi County. [Omondi Onyango, Standard]

Pathologists conducting autopsy on the 110 bodies retrieved from Shakahola forest managed to examine remains of 36 victims on Wednesday and 27 DNA analysis for families whose relatives are missing.

Wednesday’s autopsy was of 16 were children and 19 adults while the rest could not be identified due to the decomposition nature.

This brings the total number of postmortems conducted so far to 76 since the exercise started on Monday.

The exercise is being conducted by pathologists, DCI, Homicide Unit Detectives, government Chemist officials and forensic experts led by Government Chief Pathologist Johansen Oduor.

An adult was found to have heart and kidney condition which probably had gone to seek for divine healing in Shakahola.

“We found that a woman had kidney and heart condition which probably means that she had gone for a healing miracle before she was forced to fast,” said Oduor.

While addressing the press at the Malindi sub county mortuary Oduor, said that most of the children victims have some features of strangulation and asphyxiation while one adult had kidney disease.

“23 three of them died of features of starvation, four children had asphyxiatia which meant that they died due to lack of oxygen and one adult who had kidney and heart disease,” said Oduor.

Oduor further said that one child had trauma to the head, an indication that she was hit with a blunt object.

He also indicated that their level of decomposition shows that they were buried at different times.

Oduor says the process is expected to be completed in the next two days.

''Within the next two days we will be through with the post mortem process, so that if the weather is good for us we can continue with the exhumation in shakahola forest''

On Tuesday the autopsy revealed that most of the children were strangled and smothered to their death.

“From what we are hearing, there was some indication that they were being smothered, which can be one of the causes of asphyxiation. It was in two children,” he said.

The pathologists took DNA from 27 people for purposes of identification, an exercise Oduor said may take months to be completed.

''The DNA test is done for free given that it's part of the investigations ,so i encourage relatives to show up for the test''

The exercise is expected to conclude on Thursday and the government will resume exhumation next week.

According to Oduor, the decomposition has made it difficult for pathologists to estimate their time of death and had to result to using X-ray machines for age estimation

These findings now point to a possible murder of the victims of the cult-like Church led by Pastor Paul Makenzi Nthenge.

Interior cabinet secretary Kithure Kindiki on Friday said that preliminary reports suggested “some of the victims may not have died of starvation. There were other methods used, including hurting them.”

Meanwhile, people from across the country continue to hang around the area for any information about their loved ones suspected to have been a part of the deadly cult

The 50,000 acre Chakama Ranch where Shakahola Forest is located has since been cordoned off in the wake of the operation and a 30-day dusk-to-dawn curfew imposed. The government last week also barred the media from accessing the area.

In a case that erupted last month, horrifying a deeply religious nation, cult leader Makenzi is accused of urging followers to find God through starvation.

The provisional death toll stands at 110, which includes a small number of people who were found alive but died on their way to the hospital.

A former taxi driver, Nthenge created a Christian-based cult called the Good News International Church.

Detectives and pathologists are still combing through the Shakahola forest for more shallow graves and any of Nthenge's followers who might be hiding.