NAIROBI. – Authorities in Kenya have warned they have “not even scratched the surface” after discovering 73 emaciated bodies linked to a suspected starvation cult.
Exhumations are ongoing at the site in Shakahola forest, near Malindi, where 15 members of the Good News International Church were rescued last week.
Children were among those found dead, with preacher Paul Makenzie Nthenge, taken into custody.
The Kenya Red Cross Society on Sunday said 112 people had been reported missing in Malindi, where the pastor’s main church was located.
Local media described him as a “cult leader” said to have told his followers to starve themselves to death if they wanted to “meet Jesus”.
He denied the allegations, saying the church was closed down in 2019.
A total of 73 burial sites have been uncovered so far but authorities said they had yet to “scratch the surface” of the true number of graves likely to be discovered.
Five members of one family – three children and their parents – were reportedly found in one of the graves.
Pathologists will take DNA samples and conduct tests to determine whether the victims died of starvation.
Mr Nthenge was arrested on 15 April after the discovery of four people suspected of starving themselves to death.
He went on hunger strike after being detained.
Kenyan President William Ruto said yesterday that the deaths are akin to terrorism.
He said pastor Paul Makenzi belongs to jail and not to any religion.
“Makenzi … pretends and postures as a pastor when in fact he is a terrible criminal,” Ruto said.
Kithure Kindiki, Kenyan interior minister, said all 800 acres of the forest had been cordoned off and declared a crime scene as investigators carried out their work.
Kenya is a deeply religious country and there have been previous cases of people being lured into dangerous, unregulated churches or cults.
Police found 15 emaciated parishioners on Mr Nthenge’s property after a tip-off that dozens of people were starving to death in the area.
They could not walk or talk and were taken to hospital, where four of them died.
The pastor has been arrested twice before, in 2019 and in March of this year, in relation to the deaths of children.
Each time, he was released on bond, and both cases are still proceeding through the court.
Six other members of the church have been arrested after the police were told that there were bodies scattered throughout the 800-acre Shakahola forest, near the preacher’s house in southeastern Kenya. – _*msn*_