NAIROBI (Reuters) – Kenyan police have begun marking out the locations of more than a dozen suspected graves in the east of the country thought to contain the remains of followers of a Christian cult who believed they would go to heaven if they starved themselves to death, two witnesses said.
On Thursday, homicide detectives marked out patches of bare earth with sticks and yellow tape in Shakahola forest in Kilifi county, near the location where police rescued 15 members of the Good News International Church last week, according to footage broadcast by Citizen TV.
The leader of the church, Paul Mackenzie, was arrested following a tip-off that also suggested the existence of shallow graves belonging to at least 31 of Mackenzie’s followers.
Police said the 15 rescued worshippers had been told to starve themselves to death so they could meet their creator. Four of them died before they reached hospital.
Matthew Shipeta from Haki Africa, a human rights group, said he had seen at least 15 shallow graves in the forest.
“Today, we will just identify where the shallow graves are located, as we wait for direction from the government pathologist who will authorise the exhumation of the bodies,” he told Citizen TV.
Helen Mikali, the manager of a children’s home who was also helping investigators, said she had visited several nearby villages where parents and children had disappeared.
“Personally I have visited about 18 children’s graves,” Mikali told Citizen TV. She did not say how she knew the graves contained the remains of children.
Last month police arrested and later released Mackenzie in connection with the deaths of two boys in Magarini, also in Kilifi county. In an affidavit dated March 23 police said the parents of the two boys had starved them and then suffocated them on the advice of Mackenzie.