Friday saw the discovery of 29 more bodies by Kenyan detectives, increasing the total number of victims connected to a doomsday starvation cult—many of them children—to 179.
The majority of the bodies discovered in a jungle close to the town of Malindi on the Indian Ocean, according to police, are those of Paul Nthenge Mackenzie‘s followers. The former cab driver and evangelist is suspected of encouraging his followers to starve to death “to meet Jesus.”
No one had been rescued on Friday in the extensive forest, according to Rhoda Onyancha, the Coast Regional Commissioner who released the most recent statistics.
The search and exhumation operation had been halted by heavy rains last week, but it resumed on Tuesday.
25 people, including Mackenzie and a “enforcer gang” in charge of making sure nobody broke their fast or made it out of the forested stronghold alive, are being held by police, according to Onyancha.
Mackenzie is currently not obliged to make a plea, but a court ordered on Wednesday that he remain in custody for an additional three weeks as authorities continue their investigations into the incident known as the “Shakahola Forest Massacre”.
The founder of the Good News International Church, age 50, surrendered on April 14 after police entered Shakahola woodland on a tip-off.
According to leading government pathologist Johansen Oduor, although malnutrition appears to be the primary cause of death, some of the deceased, including children, were strangled, beaten, or suffocated.
Some of the bodies had their organs removed, according to court records filed on Monday. Police claim the suspects were involved in forced harvesting of body parts.
When speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki counseled caution, saying that “it is a theory we are investigating.”
The incident has shocked Kenyans and prompted President William Ruto to form a task force to reform laws controlling religious organizations as well as a commission to investigate the fatalities.
At a court hearing last week, a second clergyman accused of connections to Mackenzie and the remains discovered in the forest was granted bail and freed.