NAIROBI (Reuters) – Several children exhumed in eastern Kenya showed signs of starvation and suffocation in some cases, a government pathologist said on Monday, as investigators began autopsies on more than 100 people linked to a doomsday cult.
On Monday, investigators said they had completed 10 autopsies of nine children, ages 18 months to 10 years, and an adult woman from 101 bodies discovered last month in shallow graves in Chakula Forest, Kilifi County.
Authorities say the dead were followers of the Good News International Church led by Rev. Paul Mackenzie, whom they accuse of instructing congregants to starve themselves to death in order to be the first to go to Heaven before the end of the world.
Eight of the cult members who were found emaciated in the forest later died. To date, 44 people have been rescued.
Mackenzie has been in police custody since April 14, along with 14 other suspected cult members.
“In general, most of them were hungry. We saw features of people who had not eaten. There was no food in the stomach,” chief pathologist Johansen Odur told reporters.
He added that two of them showed signs of suffocation.
The deaths amount to one of the worst cult-related tragedies in recent history, and the death toll is expected to rise further, with the Kenya Red Cross saying more than 300 people are missing.
McKenzie has not made any public comment. Reuters spoke to two lawyers on McKenzie’s behalf, but both declined to comment on the charges against him.
Home Minister Kethuri Kindike said on Friday that most of the bodies recovered so far are children.
Odor said the government was collecting DNA samples from people who reported missing relatives. He said the matching process will take at least a month to complete.
On Sunday, President William Ruto said he would appoint a judicial commission of inquiry this week to investigate what happened in Shkula.
Reporting by George Obulutsa. Written by Hereward Holland. Editing by Sophia Christensen, Angus McSwan and Leslie Adler
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