The bodies of three children and their parents have been recovered from a burial site in Kenya alongside more than 50 other Christian cult members who believed they would ‘meet Jesus’ in Heaven if they starved themselves to death.
Kenyan police are today continuing their search in the Shakahola forest in the country’s east for victims of the ‘starvation cult’, with officials recovering 58 bodies so far.
The death toll, which has been rising steadily over the past two days as exhumations have been carried out in the forest, could rise further as the Kenyan Red Cross has said 112 people have been reported missing to a tracing desk it operates.
Five members of the same family – three children and their parents – were found in a one shallow grave. They are not believed to have been from the area.
The cult was called the Good News International Church and its leader, Paul Mackenzie, was arrested following a tip-off that suggested the existence of shallow graves containing the bodies of at least 31 of his followers.
Police and local residents load the exhumed bodies of victims of a religious cult into the back of a truck in the village of Shakahola, near the coastal city of Malindi, in southeastern Kenya, on Sunday
Kenyan homicide detectives and forensic experts from the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI), examine exhumed bodies from several shallow mass graves of suspected members of a Christian cult after starving themselves to death on Sunday
Kenyan homicide detectives and forensic experts from the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI), examine exhumed bodies from several shallow mass graves on Sunday
Over the weekend, dozens more corpses were unearthed and an 800-acre (325-hectare) area of woodland declared a crime scene as authorities seek to understand the true scale of the so-called ‘Shakahola Forest Massacre’.
Police clad in overalls are now scouring the site for more burial pits and possible survivors of the cult.
There are fears some members could be hiding from authorities in the surrounding bushland and at risk of death if not quickly found.
A number of people have already been rescued and taken to hospital in Malindi on the Indian Ocean coast.
A rights group which tipped off police about the movement and its extreme practices said at least one of those rescued had refused to eat despite being in clear physical distress.
Cult leader Mackenzie had told his followers to starve themselves in order to ‘meet Jesus’ in Heaven.
The cult was called the Good News International Church and its leader, Paul Mackenzie (pictured during a previous court appearance in March), was arrested following a tip-off that suggested the existence of shallow graves containing the bodies of at least 31 of his followers
The exhumed bodies of victims of a religious cult are laid out in the village of Shakahola, near the coastal city of Malindi, in southern Kenya, on Sunday
A photograph shows an abandoned house in the forest that buried bodies have been exhumed in Shakahola, outside the coastal town of Malindi on Sunday
The Kenya Red Cross said 112 people had been reported missing to its support staff at Malindi.
The cult leader, Makenzie Nthenge, turned himself in to police and was charged last month, according to local media, after two children starved to death in the custody of their parents.
He has since been released on bail of 100,000 Kenyan shillings (£560).
The grim case has gripped national attention and the government has flagged the need for tighter control of religious denominations in a country where rogue pastors and fringe movements have been involved in crime.
Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki, who has announced he would visit the site on Tuesday, described the case as ‘the clearest abuse of the constitutionally enshrined human right to freedom of worship’.
But attempts to regulate religion in the majority-Christian country have been fiercely opposed in the past as attempts to undermine constitutional guarantees for a division between church and state.
Cults are common in Kenya, which has a largely religious society.
Police and local residents load the exhumed bodies of victims of a religious cult into the back of a truck in the village of Shakahola, near the coastal city of Malindi on Sunday