State set to release bodies of Shakahola victims next week

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

Families whose loved ones perished in the Shakahola massacre will have to wait for at least one week to collect the bodies.

It emerged that only 30 out of the 429 bodies that were identified through DNA will be released to families.

The head of homicide at the Directorate of Criminal Investigation Martin Nyuguto and Chief Government Pathologist Dr Johansen Oduor held their final planning meeting yesterday in Malindi to fine-tune logistics of releasing the bodies. They also agreed to commence the last phase of exhumation.

An officer privy to the investigations said families of the deceased whose DNA matched will be notified when to collect the bodies of their loved ones from the Malindi sub-county morgue.

The Government Chemist examiners were able to link 30 remains of the Shakahola massacre victims, a process that relies on leading-edge DNA sequencing techniques to test tissues and skeletons recovered in shallow graves.

Investigators say the bodies of two boys who were starved to death, exposing activities of the quasi-religious group linked to cult leader Paul Makenzi, are among those positively identified.

Amani Ngala and his young brother were sons of a former soldier. The boys were the first to be reported dead inside the Shakahola forest in mid-March, leading to the arrest of Makenzi. Their mother, Emily Wanje, was also positively identified through DNA sampling.

Makenzi was subsequently released on a Sh10,000 bond by the Malindi court, pending further investigations.

More than 399 remains of the Shakahola victims are yet to be identified.

Further, families of the victims have appealed to the government to consider funding funeral expenses.

Even as families prepare to collect the bodies of their loved ones for burial, others remain in the dark since the identification process is yet to be completed.

But investigators said the DNA matching is expected to re-start in Malindi and Nairobi to help the families identify their loved ones. At one point, the exercise was stopped due to budget constraints.

Mass graves

Detectives are expected to start the fifth phase of exhumations after the release of bodies. They had earlier identified 35 mass graves.

However, officers involved in the investigations said they will face a hurdle in identifying graves due to growth of thickets after last year’s El Nino rains.

General Service Unit officers have camped inside the forest to help identify more graves ahead of the fifth phase of exhumation.

Detectives have exhumed 429 bodies since the exercise began on April 21, last year but the figure is expected to rise.