Shakahola bodies heaped in a container as death toll hits 446

Homicide detectives carrying bodies of cult victims in Shakahola forest, Kilifi County. [Marioon Kithi, Standard]

Over 397 bodies of victims of the Shakahola massacre were heaped together to create space for the phase five of the exhumation exercise. Today, three more bodies have been exhumed taking the death toll to 446.

The Standard established that bodies retrieved from the shallow graves in the first four phases of the exercise going on inside the forest in Kilifi's Malindi area have been piled in one container mortuary.

Sources said that due to decomposition, the bodies have shrunk and were able to fit in the 40ft container with a capacity of 30 bodies. The 17 retrieved in phase 5 that started on Monday are skeletons.

Detectives involved in the exercise said three more bodies were exhumed on today taking the number of the people who died from the cult to 446.

The bodies are preserved inside two mobile mortuaries outside Malindi Sub County Hospital.

However, the electricity supply to the mobile container mortuary has been disconnected following complaints from Kilifi Governor Gideon Mung’aro.

Mung’aro had protested over the high cost of electricity and threatened to transport the bodies to Kenya National Hospital.

Yesterday, we established that the two mobile mortuaries are using gas to preserve the badly decomposed bodies.

Most of the remains are still waiting in black body bags. The body bags are marked with numbers and the barest of details, scrawled in black pen.

The poor state of the place where the bodies are preserved has elicited questions as to why the state was keen to continue exhuming the bodies.

In April, families appealed for help to bury their kin that perished in Shakahola forest. A section of the families interviewed are reluctant to collect the bodies of their identified loved ones from the morgue.

The state and non-state actors were recently forced to take some families who had refused to take the bodies of their families for burial through psychological counseling.

The social workers and therapists from the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS), the Directorate of Homicide, and Kilifi County were able to convince the families to pick the bodies of their kin for burial.

Kilifi County KRCS coordinator Kawthar Mohammed said the process ensured that all the identified Shakahola massacre victims were buried with dignity.

"We conducted counseling sessions at the household level to make sure that the bodies are accepted, buried with dignity and put closure to this matter at the family level because many families couldn’t accept their own," she said.

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

The DCI homicide unit was also forced to deploy police Land Rovers to transport the bodies to their homes.

This is after the families remained adamant that they could not raise the cost of transporting the bodies for burial.

“We pleaded with the families to at least purchase the coffins. They do not want to incur any burial cost,” said a DCI officer.

The authorities said that the death toll is expected to rise as more graves have been identified.

“While starvation appears to be the main cause of death, some of the victims including children were strangled, bludgeoned to death or suffocated,” according to chief government pathologist Johansen Oduor.

The victims were allegedly lured into the forest by Paul Makenzi to starve to death to ostensibly see Jesus Christ.