15 mass graves identified in Shakahola as exhumation halted

So far 48 people have been rescued.


• Detectives believe they have a case of murder on some of the suspects in custody.

• More officers were deployed to the forest to search and rescue believers of pastor Paul Mackenzie still holed up therein.

Security officers dig up shallow graves at Shakahola to exhume bodies on Tuesday, April 25, 2023.

Security officials have identified 15 mass graves that are yet to be touched at the Shakahola forest, Kilifi County.

This is likely to increase the number of bodies recovered from the forest even as the search for survivors goes on.

One person was Tuesday arrested while two female adults were rescued from the forest.

Coast Regional Commissioner Rhoda Onyancha said so far 48 people have been rescued.

"We have had two rescues and 24 arrests made," she said.

The exhumation was halted to give pathologists time to conduct autopsies on the 110 bodies so far recovered.

The postmortem exercise started Monday and is scheduled to end probably on Friday before the exhumation continues.

The bodies that have been worked on will be kept in special fridges brought by Kenya Road Cross and give room to new ones from the graves.

The Malindi mortuary is already overwhelmed hence need to manage the flow of the bodies, officials said.

More officers were deployed to the forest to search and rescue believers of pastor Paul Mackenzie still holed up therein.

“The focus is now on survivors if any. We will get the bodies because we have identified 15 mass graves for now. But we need the survivors,” said an official aware of the developments.

The autopsy exercise is being conducted by a combined team of Government pathologists led by Johansen Oduor, detectives from the Homicide Unit, Forensic unit, and Government chemist among others.

On the first day of the briefing, Oduor said all the 10 bodies which were operated on showed signs of starvation but revealed that two of them had indications that they had cyanosis which means they could have been suffocated to death.

Cyanosis is the blue discolouration of fingernails which could have been caused by asphyxiation.

Asphyxiation, on the other hand, is the state or process of being deprived of oxygen, which can result in unconsciousness or death and suffocation

He said all internal body organs were intact in the bodies of those who underwent postmortem.

“We had initial challenges because we had to set up an X-ray. We decided that we have to do an X-ray on the bodies of everyone for the purpose of age estimation. Remember many of those were children we needed to know their ages so that is why we took some time and we only managed to do 10 postmortems,” he said.

He said of the bodies they conducted postmortem on, one body was of one female adult and the rest were of children aged from one and a half years to 10 years.

“Generally most of them had features of starvation, we saw features of people who have not eaten, there was no food in the stomach, the layer of fat was very small, the liver was fatty,” he said.

“So those are the autopsies we have done. We have taken samples for further tests which include toxicology. We have also taken samples of DNA for purposes of identification,” he said.

Oduor said a look at the bodies showed they were starved, however, for the two children, their fingernails had blue discolouration.

He said the blueish discolouration shows that the person when he or she died there was not enough oxygen coming into the body.

He said something could have happened to deny the person oxygen.

On Tuesday, 30 postmortems and 27 DNAs for families looking for their relatives who joined the cult were done.

This brings the total number of postmortems to 40 since the exercise started.

Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki said the process could take one week and the other one for DNA up to one month.

Mackenzie, who is in police custody, is being investigated for influencing his followers to starve to death in order to meet their maker.

Police also suspect that some of the victims did not starve to death and may have been killed and then buried on the property.

He has denied wrongdoing but has been denied bail. He insists that he shut down his church in 2019.

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