Nairobi — The death toll from the Shakahola Forest starvation cult linked to controversial televangelist Paul Mackenzie currently stands at 241, Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki has said.
Of these, five of them being skeletons recovered after the suspension of the exhumation exercise last week.
Kindiki said that the search and rescue teams stumbled on the five skeletons on two different days.
“The skeletons are part of the human remains that will be the subject of postmortem examinations,” he said.
The Interior CS further disclosed that one person who had been rescued from Shakahola forest and taken to hospital for stabilization lost their life on Wednesday after the victim completely refused to eat because of the level of indoctrination.
“We tried our best to feed the victim of this horrible crime with a lot of resistance but because they had already been weakened significantly, that combined with their resistance to eat made them to succumb last evening(Wednesday),” he added.
Kindiki stated that so far, the rescue teams have rescued 91 persons and taken DNA samples from 93 cases.
He added that the 19 victims have been reunited with their families since the start of the exercise adding that 34 suspects have been arrested in connection with the Shakahola deaths to date.
The interior CS further announced that the measures gazetted on Chakama Ranch have been extended by another 30 days.
“That area remains a crime scene and out of bounds for every unauthorised person. The extended orders include the 6pm to 6am curfew,” he said.
CS Kindiki stated that the government has an evidence of more graves at Shakahola forest, the part of Chakama Ranch that is currently under dusk-to-dawn curfew.
Kindiki explained that the suspension that took place of exhumation exercise is to enable postmortem examinations on 129 bodies and free the space at the Malindi morgue because of its smaller capacity.
“Immediately after the postmortem examinations is concluded, we will resume the exhumation of more bodies. We will not leave any of our people in that forest; dead or alive,”
The interior CS reiterated that the government will not hide any information related to the Shakahola forest massacre noting the postmortem exercise will be led by Chief Government Pathologist Dr. Johansen Oduor who Kindiki says be giving daily updates at 5pm.
He further clarified that the search and rescue mission has never been interrupted adding that the government is upscaling the service to ensure that every victim is accounted for.
Kindiki stated that the government has information that some of the Mackenzie followers are fleeing in the direction of Galana Kulalu and Tsavo National Park to escape the teams.
He called for more patience as government investigates the deaths adding that the investigations could take longer than expected in a bid to ensure that the government gets to the bottom of the matter.
Police and other rescue workers are undertaking a search and rescue mission in the forest since last month after 610 people were reported missing.
Mackenzie has not yet been required to enter a plea but on May 10 a court ordered him to be detained for three more weeks pending further investigations over what has been dubbed the “Shakahola Forest Massacre”.
The 50-year-old founder of the Good News International Church turned himself in on April 14 after police acting on a tip-off first entered Shakahola forest.
While starvation appears to be the main cause of death, some of the victims — including children — were strangled, beaten or suffocated, according to chief government pathologist Johansen Oduor.
Questions have been raised about how Mackenzie, a father of seven, managed to evade law enforcement despite a history of extremism and previous legal cases.
The horrific saga has stunned Kenyans and led President William Ruto to set up a commission of inquiry into the deaths and a task force to review regulations governing religious bodies.