Unidentified victims of Shakahola massacre to be buried in mass graves

Exhumed bodies at the Shakahola fasting cult crime scene. [Nehemiah Okwembah, Standard]

Hundreds of unidentified bodies of followers of controversial pastor Paul Makenzi will be buried in marked graves in Shakahola forest, Malindi, Kilifi County.

Chief Government Pathologist Dr Johansen Oduor said due to failure to identify the bodies even through DNA, they will be interred in the forest.

Speaking in Malindi on Tuesday, Dr Oduor hinted that there were talks to end the exhumation because it was an exercise in futility, as the decomposed bodies would be difficult to identify.

He said the bodies would otherwise be exhumed, and if the DNA sample results marched with family members of the victims, they could bury them in their homes.

On Tuesday, during the autopsy of six out of the 24 bodies recovered in the recent exhumation, Dr Oduor said that he could not ascertain the cause of death due to the high level of decomposition.

“In forensic medicine, the general principle is that if you try all your best to identify someone who is not known, the body is temporarily buried in a marked grave as we wait for the analysis to come so that if a profile is generated, we will be able to identify the grave and retrieve the body,” he explained.

The Chief Government Pathologist who was accompanied by the Homicide Director Martin Nyuguto, called upon relatives of victims of the Shakahola massacre to visit any nearby government chemist and have their DNA samples taken.

He urged families whose DNA samples were taken to patiently wait for the profiles to be generated “because extracting DNA is very complex. It is not a test for malaria or typhoid whose results can be obtained within a day.”

Dr Oduor said the Government had generated many DNA samples from the bodies and skeletons preserved at the morgue but was lacking reference samples from relatives because not many relatives had volunteered to have their DNA samples extracted.

“What will happen now is that there will be a last survey, which will be undertaken by the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) in the whole forest so that we wrap up. We are sure that we are not leaving any human remains in the place,” he said.

Only 34 out of the 453 bodies retrieved from the shallow graves inside the Shakahola forest have so far been positively identified and handed over to relatives for burial.

The remaining 419 bodies have been preserved at the Malindi Sub County Hospital Funeral Homes as the process of identifying them is ongoing. So far, 610 people have reported missing at the contact tracing centre.

Since the fifth phase of exhumations began on June 3, 24 bodies have been recovered, pushing the Shakahola massacre death toll to 452. Oduor said 50 mass graves were identified in the fifth phase.

Makenzi's controversial activities came to the fore after the disappearance and death of Isaac Ngala’s three boys on March 25, 2023.

In the report, the Senate ad-hoc committee concluded that the Shakahola massacre that shocked the world in 2023 had the hallmarks of past sectarian sects that have claimed many lives.

The Senate committee found that Makenzi was the leaders of Good News International (GNI), in Malindi, Kilifi county.

The controversial pastor is accused of allegedly brainwashing his followers to starve themselves to death in order to "meet Jesus."