Shakahola cult: Death toll rises as more bodies found in forest

Detectives retrieve bodies from shallow mass graves within the Shakahola forest. [Kelvin Karani, Standard]

Sixteen fresh bodies were retrieved from seven shallow graves inside the Shakahola forest, sparking concerns that more followers of the cult were still dying and being buried in the area.

 The death toll on Tuesday rose to 419. Detectives involved in the rescue, recovery, and investigations stated that it appears more bodies are still being buried in the expansive forest.

The 16 bodies were found in fresh graves, which detectives believe could be less than a month old. The bodies were retrieved in the Kwa Mugambi area, as stated by an anonymous officer who is not authorized to speak to the press.

"At the beginning of the week, we had 40 new mass graves, but we keep stumbling upon new graves; sometimes we find graves even where we pitch our tents," said the officer.

Coast Regional Coordinator Rhoda Onyancha stated that the number of rescues remains at 95, with 37 arrests made so far.

"613 people have been reported missing. They are either believed to have perished or are missing in relation to the Shakahola massacre. 95 people have been rescued, and 19 have been reunited with their families," said Onyancha.

Onyancha added that the exhumation will continue deeper into the forest, with DNA sampling remaining at 258.

"Some of the suspects were arrested in the bushes at Shakahola, while others were apprehended in various locations after being tracked down by a team of investigators through mobile communications and connections," she said.

The suspects are believed to have played significant roles in the commission of offenses that led to the deaths and illegal disposal of bodies in the expansive Shakahola forest.

The exhumation is currently in its fourth phase. Throughout this week, authorities have been digging up shallow graves scattered throughout the forest in search of remains and scouring the area for any survivors, as hundreds of people are still reported missing.

Last month, Kenya Defence Forces soldiers were deployed to demarcate the 50,000-acre ranch to assist in the search and rescue operation.

Earlier, Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki extended the search and rescue operations to the entire 50,000 Shakama ranch.

Kindiki mentioned that this decision was made after some devotees were rescued while crossing the Galana Kulalu area.

The figure is expected to rise as detectives plan more exhumations. The bodies are believed to be those of followers of cult leader Paul Makenzi.

 

Homicide detectives state that the work will take much longer than initially anticipated due to the discovery of new graves every day.

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