Kenyan Pastor Charged with Murder After 429 Bodies Found in Shakahola Forest

Kenyan pastor charged with murder, manslaughter, and child abuse after 429 bodies found in Shakahola forest cult tragedy - a horrific example of the dangers of extremist religious cults.

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Israel Ojoko
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Kenyan Pastor Charged with Murder After 429 Bodies Found in Shakahola Forest

Kenyan Pastor Charged with Murder After 429 Bodies Found in Shakahola Forest

Kenyan pastor Paul Nthenge Mackenzie and 94 others have been charged with murder, manslaughter, terrorism, and child abuse after the discovery of 429 bodies in the Shakahola forest.

Mackenzie, the leader of the Good News International Church, allegedly incited his followers to starve themselves to death, believing it would allow them to meet Jesus Christ before the end of the world.

The bodies of the victims were found in shallow mass graves, with 34 identified and 92 rescued so far. Autopsies have revealed that the majority died of hunger, while others, including children, appear to have been strangled, beaten or suffocated. An 'enforcer gang' was tasked with ensuring that no one broke their fast or left the forest hideout alive.

Why this matters: The Shakahola forest massacre is considered one of the world's worst cult-related tragedies in recent decades. The case has provoked horror across the world and is a tragic example of the dangers of extremist religious cults.

Mackenzie founded the Good News International Church in 2003 and later moved his followers to settle in the remote Shakahola forest in 2019. Over time, their numbers grew to around 2,000. In early 2023, locals noticed the children and women from the settlement were no longer coming to town, and herders found emaciated people in the forest, some claiming they had been forced to starve themselves.

On April 14, 2023, authorities descended on the forest and found hundreds of bodies in mass graves, as well as some survivors who refused help, believing they were on their way to heaven. Mackenzie was arrested the same day the bodies were discovered. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.

The Kenyan government has been criticized for ignoring multiple warnings about the cult that could have prevented the deaths. A commission of inquiry has been set up to review regulations governing religious bodies. The interior ministry plans to convert 325 hectares of land in Shakahola into a memorial for the victims.

Families of the deceased are struggling with the aftermath, feeling abandoned by the government and seeking closure. Francis Wanje, a schoolteacher who lost eight relatives to the cult, said: "We hope the government will support us to bury our loved ones with dignity, fence off the mass graves and put up a monument in honor of the dead." The identification process has been slow, with many still waiting for the remains of their family members a year later.

Key Takeaways

  • 429 bodies found in Kenyan Shakahola forest, victims of cult leader
  • Cult leader Paul Nthenge Mackenzie charged with murder, manslaughter, terrorism
  • Victims starved themselves to death, believing it would allow them to meet Jesus
  • Kenyan government criticized for ignoring warnings about the deadly cult
  • Families struggle with aftermath, seek government support for victims' burials