Detectives discover 16 graves as autopsy on 94 bodies set to begin

Some of the bodies exhumed from Shakahola forest. [Kelvin Karani, Standard]

Detectives exhuming bodies of victims of a starvation cult in Shakahola forest, Kilifi county have taken a break to allow for the third round of autopsies to be conducted from tomorrow at the Malindi Sub-county Hospital mortuary.

The autopsies on 94 bodies are meant to decongest the overstretched morgue.

Yesterday, homicide detectives and forensic experts investigating the Shakahola doomsday cult revealed that they discovered 16 new mass graves suspected to contain more bodies.

“We have about 16 mass graves, and the number of bodies is expected to increase,” said a detective on condition of anonymity.

The bodies are believed to be of followers of Pastor Paul Makenzi who reportedly instructed them to starve themselves to death to meet Jesus.

Since exhumation began on April 21, 336 bodies have so far been retrieved from the forest where Makenzi has a home, with the highest number in a single day being 29.

Many bodies were exhumed at the ‘Kwa Mugambi area’ about three kilometres from the controversial pastor’s homestead.

In this area, the homicide team exhumed up to seven bodies in a single mass grave, mostly of children and women.

Makenzi allegedly told his followers that burying children in his home was for him to identify with Jesus’ command to “Let the little children come unto me.”

As the third autopsy kicks off, pathologists and forensic experts are working tirelessly to match the DNA to their kin, so the bodies can be released for burial.

The Government Chemist collected 93 DNA samples at the morgue and transported them to Mombasa for a medical procedure.

According to a senior Chemist at the Government chemist, the DNA procedure was being done in Mombasa county since Kilifi doesn’t have a DNA sequencing machine.

Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki said the fourth phase of exhumation would commence immediately after the third round of autopsies. Speaking during a church service in Maragwa, Murang’a County on Sunday, Prof Kindiki assured that the government would exhume all bodies in the forest.

“There are still many mass graves in the forest, and we are yet to finish that job. It does not matter how many people we have lost. We will give the full statistics, and we will not hide the truth or leave anybody dead inside that cursed forest,” he said.

Kenya Defense Forces soldiers are also demarcating the 50,000-acre Chakama ranch where Shakahola falls to aid the search and rescue operations.

Meanwhile, police in Kilifi are pursuing a herder believed to have stabbed another pastoralist to death in the vast Chakama ranch and fled.

Malindi sub-county police boss Willimot Mwanyalo said the body of the herder was removed to the Malindi Hospital Mortuary as the police launch a manhunt for the suspect, who is believed to have crossed over to the Galana Kulalu area.