Endless grief of waiting for victims of Shakahola Massacre


A woman overwhelmed by grief after viewing the body of her kin at the Malindi sub-county morgue. [ Marion Kithi, Standard)

It is a triple tragedy for Priscilla Charles, who lost a daughter and three grandchildren to the cult linked to controversial pastor Paul Makenzi at the Shakahola forest in Malindi, Kilifi County.

Firstly, the bodies of her daughter and two grandchildren are yet to be identified by the state. Priscilla buried one of her grandchildren identified through the DNA at Mumangane village in Malindi.

“After burying one of my grandchildren, I am now forced to come to Malindi every day hoping that my daughter, Lorene Charles, and the other two grandchildren are identified so that I can bury them,” she says.

Priscilla's DNA sample was harvested by the officers from the Chief Government Pathologist in May last year, hoping that the identification exercise would be swift so that she could get some form of closer.

Thirdly, Lorene’s husband, Peter Menza Kahaso, is among those in custody after the state-linked him to the Shakahola Massacre that has so far claimed the lives of over 450.

''My daughter was dynamic, chumming, involving, passionate, and protective of his kids. If other parents wanted their children to spend time with anyone, it was Lorene,” says Priscilla.

"The last time I saw my daughter was in January last year she was part of the cult. I don’t know if she is among those exhumed or still in the shallow graves."

Lorene found the love of her life, who was a videographer at Makenzi’s Good News International (GNI) church in 2017. She introduced was introduced to the church by her friend.

However, the tell-tale signs that Makenzi’s GNI had turned into a cult started to emerge after Lorene and her husband stopped taking their kids to school.

According to Priscilla, Lorene started campaigns against family planning methods, schools, medicine, and other earthly possessions at their home area in Malindi, Kilifi County.

They were sold a piece of land in Shakahola by Makenzie in 2021. They kept going and coming until 2022 when they permanently relocated to Shakahola forest.

"I sought solace in the grief and the cherished memories of my loved ones even as we continue the search for healing," says Priscilla.

Homicide detectives carrying bodies of cult victims in Shakahola Forest ,Kilifi county on May 14, 2023. [Marion Kithi, Standard]

Another one is Jessica Konde. She is among families yet to identify their kin a year after they gave their DNA samples. Jesca lost eight members of her family and none has been positively identified.

Only 34 DNA results were released. Most of the bodies inside the two container mobile ambulances stationed outside the Malindi Sub-County Hospital have shrunk due to the loss of water and fluid.

Degraded bodies in bags with handwritten cards identify each victim of the cult. Families of the victims say it has been painful and endless grief to wait for the state to release their bodies for a decent burial.

Others have given up and are rooting for mass burial of all the bodies retrieved from the shallow graves. Some decry the high cost of transport and burial. However, the State has undertaken to offer to transport the bodies.

Since the fifth phase of exhumations began on June 3, 23 bodies have been exhumed, pushing the cult death toll to 452. Chief Government pathologist Johansen Oduor said 50 mass graves have been identified in the fifth phase of exhumation, which detectives say could be the last.

Some skeletal remains found in the 50,000-acre Chakama Ranch indicate the bodies of some of the victims might have been eaten by wild animals.

So far, 610 people have been reported missing at the tracing centre.

Hundreds of families, families of Priscilla's and Konde's, are hopefully waiting to bury their loved ones once pathologists conduct autopsies and embalm the bodies recovered, and forensic experts collect DNA samples and bring back the results.

It's a long wait.

Further, the detectives will conduct a forensic search of the entire demarcated Shakahola land to recover any item of evidential value and if there is any suspicious grave evaluation before handing over the crime scene to the state.

Prosecutors charged Makenzi and scores of his suspected followers in January on a series of charges including the murder of 191 children. They have denied any wrongdoing.

But the scale of the tragedy is still unclear, it is expected that the death toll could rise by several hundred as exhumations continue.

Last month, a High Court in Malindi ordered the Director of Public Prosecution to reduce murder charges against Makenzi and his co-accused from 191 to 12.

Justice Mugure Thande said the prosecution’s decision to overload the charge sheet was not in the interest of the public or administration of justice. The judge said the 191 counts would put an immense burden on the judge and jury, describing them as oppressive and a violation of the rights of the accused.