Mystery of missing boys as probe shows children, women targeted

Homicide detectives carry exhumed bodies at Shakahola. [ Marion Kithi, Standard]

The first reported death of two boys inside the Shakahola forest in mid-March is still shrouded in mystery. Their bodies are yet to be found in the ongoing rescue and recovery operation.

On Tuesday, their grandfather, Francis Wanje said the graves earlier believed to contain their remains were found to be empty.

He said the family believes the bodies were retrieved before the start of the operation.

"I believe they were exhumed and reburied elsewhere or thrown into Sabaki River after the police moved to court to get orders to retrieve them," said Wanje, adding that most parents who lost their children fear to speak out.

Police arrested Paul Makenzi of the Good News International Church in mid-March, following reports that the two boys were forced to starve to death to meet Jesus.

On March 23, police obtained an order from Malindi court to exhume bodies. More than 200 bodies have since been retrieved from the thicket but Mzee Wanje said his grandchildren have not been found.

Yesterday, detectives and civil society groups involved in the probe said the pathologists are yet to state the number of children and women exhumed from Shakahola farm.

But a fortnight ago, Chief Government Pathologist Dr Johansen Oduor said most of the victims are children and women. He noted that the children were either strangled, hit by a blunt object on the head, or forcefully starved to death.

This was collaborated by the State lawyer, Alex Jamii who also told a court in Mombasa that "corroborating evidence collected so far by experts' reports shows that children and women were coaxed or violently forced to starve to death to hasten their death as a consequence of radical religious ideology."

Makenzi is being detained alongside his wife, Rhoda Mumbua Maweu and 15 other suspected accomplices to the crimes.

They have denied any link to the bodies being retrieved from the forest. Shakahola village elder Changawa Mangi said most children were locked inside houses by their parents and forced to fast.

Those who defied were beaten to death. "I found four emaciated children escaping from the forest in March this year. They narrated the horrendous ordeal at the hands of the cult leaders. It is said that children were to be the first to die, followed by women," said Mangi.

He said the four children, aged between 10 and 15, arrived at the village elders' homestead in Shakalaka trading centre about 12 kilometres from Paul Makenzi's expensive farm tired and bruised.

"I gave them food and water and offered them refuge at my place for the meantime," said Mangi. "I took the matter to the area chief, but he told me we should first investigate the matter since the children might be just making up stories.

"Last week, during exhumation, one of the mass graves at Makenzi homestead had 12 children buried facing each other," said a detective involved in the probe.

Victor Kaudo from the Malindi Human Rights Centre, who is helping in search and rescue operations, said some of the kids rescued were as young as six years.

According to a police report, 610 people have been reported missing by their relatives, and almost half are minors.

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