Two witnesses said Kenyan police have begun locating more than a dozen suspected graves in the east of the country believed to contain the remains of followers of a Christian sect who believe they will go to heaven, when they starve.
On Thursday, homicide detectives marked with sticks and yellow tapes, graves in Shakula Forest in Kilifi County, where police rescued 15 members of Good News International Church last week.
On Friday, authorities discovered seven bodies – including an adult and two children – while digging up sites suspected to be secret graves where enthusiastic churchgoers were buried by the Reverend Paul Mackenzie.
The seven were found after excavating two of a total of 32 locations on the map, meaning the forensics team have 29 more graves before completing their mission. It also means that the number of victims of starvation is likely to increase.
Friday’s recovery brings the death toll to 17 as supporters of controversial pastor Paul Mackenzie allegedly starved to see “Jesus”. And 16 supporters have been rescued so far, including a 55-year-old man who was found in hiding on Friday.
Mackenzie was arrested after receiving a tip that also indicated the existence of shallow graves belonging to at least 31 of his supporters.
On Friday, Defense for Children International investigators enlisted the help of local residents to excavate the sites for the third day that forensic experts and crime scene analysts camped in the village.
Police said the 15 rescued believers were told to starve so they could meet their Maker. Four of them died before reaching the hospital.