The number of deaths linked to a Kenyan doomsday cult whose leader said starvation would lead to Jesus has surpassed 400, authorities said Monday.
The total number of fatalities is now 403 with the exhumation of 12 more bodies, according to Coast Regional Commissioner Rhoda Onyancha, who said that 95 people have been rescued.
Pastor Paul Nthenge Mackenzie, the founder and leader of Good News International Ministries, is accused of ordering his followers to starve to death so they could “meet Jesus.”
Mackenzie, who was arrested on April 14, denies the accusations. He is currently in police custody along with 36 other suspects, including his third wife, Rhoda Mumbua Maweu. They have yet to be officially charged.
In early April, Kenya police began investigating the small religious community inside the Shakahola Forest in the coastal county of Kilifi after a tip from a man whose wife and daughter had left Nairobi to join the cult.
Authorities initially found 39 bodies buried in shallow graves inside the 800-acre property. By the end of the month, the death toll had risen to more than 70. In late June, authorities said the death toll had topped 300, with the discovery of 19 more bodies.
Most of the victims died of starvation, according to medical examiners. However, some individuals also died after being strangulated, suffocated and beaten.
Kenya Red Cross officers believe at least 613 worshippers have been reported missing.
The alleged cult leader moved to Shakahola Forest after his church was closed in 2019. He had been previously investigated by police and charged with the 2017 deaths of two children at his former church, but he was out on bond.
Kenyan President William Ruto said during a speech in April that Mackenzie “pretends and postures as a pastor when in fact he is a terrible criminal.”
Comparing the incident to “terrorism,” Ruto vowed to crack down on “those using religion to advance their heinous acts.”