Police exhume 29 bodies from Shakahola taking the death toll to 179

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

Detectives have exhumed 29 bodies, including 12 children from Shakahola forest, the highest number since the rescue and recovery operations started three weeks ago.

This takes the number of deaths linked to pastor Paul Makenzi's Good News International church to 179. Coast regional commissioner Rhoda Onyancha said there was no rescue on Friday from the forest.

Since the operation started, 25 people have been rescued. Ms Onyancha said the search and rescue operation was yesterday extended to midnight. Fifteen more people were reported missing yesterday taking the number to 609.

The forensic team exhumed the bodies from six mass graves in what they said was Makenzi's homestead christened Bethlehem. One of the mass graves contained 12 children buried facing each other.

"The children's age ranged between two and eight years. They emaciated an indication that the kids were starved to death," said Onyacha in an interview with the press at the Shakahola rescue centre.

According to a detective privy to the operation, six bodies of children were exhumed from a shallow grave behind a structure he claimed was Makenzi's house.

The second phase of the operation started on Monday after pathologists concluded the postmortems on the 114 bodies that were retrieved in the first phase.

The autopsies revealed that most victims were starved to death, strangled, or hit on the head by blunt objects. It ruled out the human body organ trade after it was established that all body parts were intact.

In her daily briefing at the Shakahola command center, Onyancha said 25 people linked to the massacre have been arrested and recorded different statements. This includes Makenzi, his wife, and 15 other suspected accomplices. This includes Makenzi’s wife Rhoda Mumbua Maweu. Others are Robert Kahindi, Alfred Asena, Stephen Muye, Gideon Mbithi, Joseph Mbogoli, Stephen Omonde, Samart Mwakala, and Lucas Owino.

Others are Zablon Atanda alias Zablon Mwana Wa Jesus, Daniel Makori alias Mteule wa Yesu, John Mark Kiara, Fredrick Karimi, Collins Kabae, David Ambwaya, Emannuel Chilume, and Enos Ngala.

Ms Onyancha said yesterday that DNA samples had been collected from 93 families, with 14 people reunited with their kin.

Interior Cabinet Secretary Prof. Kithure Kindiki on Tuesday stated that the government would use all available resources to determine what had occurred at Shakahola.

According to the CS, there was still a long way to go as security agencies comb the vast forest linked to controversial preacher Paul Makenzi.

Meanwhile, Makenzi and 17 other co-accused persons are still in police custody for 30 more days pending the conclusion of investigations.

Shanzu Law Courts Senior Principal Magistrate Yusuf Shikanda delivered the ruling on Wednesday, stating that releasing the suspects would jeopardise their safety and ongoing investigations.