Shakahola massacre: Two skeletons push death toll to 237

Homicide detectives exhume bodies from shallow graves within the Shakahola forest in Kilifi County. [Marrion Kithi, Standard]

Detectives investigating the Shakahola massacre linked to controversial preacher Paul Makenzi have recovered the skeletons of two adults bringing the death toll to 237.

Makenzi, of Good News International Church, is said to have lured his followers to death, through starvation and dehydration, in the name of religion. Some of those who died were children after they were allegedly forced to fast and pray with the hope of meeting Jesus Christ.

But all this time, Makenzi is said to have been eating. He reportedly told his followers that he would, in the end, also starve himself to death to meet Jesus.

The team, led by homicide director Martin Nyaguto, recovered remains on Saturday, May 20, 2023, even as the search for more bodies continued.

The gender of the two bodies could not be established immediately. That will be done by forensic experts through postmortem.

The bones were discovered by the GSU officers who have been combing the expansive forest in their efforts to save those who are still alive while recovering the bodies of victims.

The skeletons were found about a kilometre from Mackenzie's homestead christened as “'Bethlehem”, and taken to the Malindi sub-county hospital morgue awaiting postmortem which has been scheduled for Wednesday next week.

The investigators said there is a possibility more people stiff fasting and trapped in the forest, especially after reports hundreds of people are still missing.

The exhumation process was put to a halt after the forensic team took a five-day break to prepare for a second phase of postmortem scheduled for Wednesday. Chief government pathologist Johansen Oduor is expected to oversee the postmortems.

Coast Regional Commissioner Rhoda Onyancha on Saturday said the search and rescue operations are still ongoing as GSU officers have pitched camp in the forest.

“The ongoing rescue, recovery, and investigation at Shakahola forest seek to unravel the mystery behind the mass deaths,” Ms Onyancha said.

She added: “The operation will continue as we seek to ensure all the people who are still alive are saved. More than 600 people have been reported missing by their relatives while 31 others have been arrested in connection with activities of Makenzi and his church.”

Onyancha further said that DNA samples from 93 families have been collected to help in the identification of bodies.

At least 14 people who have been rescued and reunited with their families since this matter came to the fore and the search for survivors and bodies started.

Controversial preacher Paul Makenzi. [File, Standard]

The Standard has established no family has so far been given remains of their loved ones since this massacre came to the fore last month when it emerged cult leader Makenzi urged his followers “to find God” through starvation.

Mackenzie further marketed Shakahola as a holy ground where followers would meet Jesus.

The 800-acre property, a sun-scorched wasteland, is now a gruesome crime scene, characterized by shallow graves of believers who starved themselves to death.

Meanwhile, Makenzi and 17 suspected accomplices are still in custody and will be detained for 30 more days pending the completion of investigations into his activities.

Shanzu Law Courts Senior Principal Magistrate Yusuf Shikanda, on Wednesday, said freeing them will hurt the probe.

The Ad hoc senate committee on the proliferation of religious organizations in the country, led by Tana River senator Danson Mungatana, visited the scene of the crime on Saturday on their fact-finding mission.

On Friday, the team met with local religious organizations and the county security team and discussed measures that can be taken to avert religious extremism.