Shakahola death toll hits 235 as exhumation suspended to allow autopsy on bodies

One of the bodies exhumed at Pastor Makenzie's Shakahola farm in Malindi, Kilifi County. [Marion Kithi, Standard]

Homicide detectives on Thursday exhumed eight bodies from Shakahola forest, Kilifi county, taking the death toll to 235 as police continue with probe into Pastor Paul Makenzi's religious activities.

Coast Regional Coordinator Rhoda Onyancha announced that the exercise has been suspended for five days to allow pathologists to conduct autopsy on 123 bodies exhumed in the second phase of the operation.

Ms Onyancha said the search and rescue operation continues.

Briefing the press at Shakahola Rescue and Recovery Centre, the Coast Regional Coordinator said the postmortem is expected to start on Wednesday at the Malindi Sub-County Hospital morgue.

Chief government pathologist, Dr Johansen Oduor, is expected to oversee the process. "The forensic team will take a break from tomorrow to prepare for the postmortem of the 123 bodies exhumed in the second phase of the operation,” she said.

Onyancha said three women and one man were rescued on Thursday from Shakahola forest. She noted that one female adult was in critical condition.

"So far, 613 people have been reported missing by their relatives,” she said adding that the number of those arrested stood at 31.

The second phase of the exhumation of bodies started on Monday after pathologists concluded postmortem on 114 bodies retrieved in the first phase.

Detectives exhumed bodies from graves in Makenzi’s homestead christened Bethlehem.

The ongoing operation seeks to unravel the mystery behind the mass deaths of the followers of the controversial preacher.

Ms Onyancha noted that that DNA samples were taken from 93 families while 14 people have been rescued and reunited with their families.

The Standard has established that detectives investigating the Shakahola deaths have recorded statements from more than 100 witnesses.

The Director of Public Prosecution Noordin Haji, is expected to establish a team of special counsels to go through the statements before charges are preferred against Makenzi and his 16 accomplices.

The suspects, including Makenzi’s wife, Rhoda Mumbua Maweu are in custody.

Makenzi has denied any link to the alleged religious cult, saying he closed the Good News International church in 2019 and went into farming.