Kenya starvation cult: deaths explained, what is suspected starvation cult, how many bodies have been found

Over 100 people have died after being promised they would ‘meet Jesus’

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The autopsy of more than 100 bodies found in shallow graves in Kenya has begun as authorities in the country investigate the link to a religious cult.

A total of 109 bodies, all thought to be members of the suspected 'starvation cult' Good News International Church, have been found, while 44 people have been rescued. Authorities say that a majory of those found in shallow graves were children.

It comes after police in Kenya have detained another well-known pastor on the Indian Ocean coast, as the number of fatalities connected to a religious cult in the region increased to 103.

Ezekiel Odero “is being processed to face criminal charges related to mass killing of his followers”, according to a statement by interior minister Kithure Kindiki.

Odero is scheduled to appear in court on Friday (28 April) after being questioned overnight. According to officials, his church has been closed and anyone found inside has been told to leave.

Here is what you need to know about the suspected starvation cult in Kenya - including what authorities have said about the incident and whether any arrests have been made.

What is the suspected Kenya starvation cult?

The suspected starvation cult in Kenya is reportedly held from the Good News International Church and is led by Makenzie Nthenge.

The aim of the group is for its followers to starve themselves, which includes not just refusing food but also not drinking water, so they can "meet Jesus".

One church member has been taken in by emergency services, but they are not accepting first aid or any further support despite visibly showing physical distress from their forced starvation, instead wanting to continue fasting until death.

What have authorities said about the Kenya cult?

Head of criminal investigations in Malindi, Charles Kamau told AFP in an official statement: "Today we have exhumed 26 more bodies and this brings the total number of bodies from that place to 47."

The operation was launched after the first bodies were discovered last week, which has led to a full-scale investigation of the Good News International Church.

Kenya's interior minister Kithure Kindiki dubbed the incident the "Shakola forrest massacre", which he said is "the clearest abuse of the constitutionally enshrined human right to freedom of worship" in a post on Twitter.

He wrote: "While the State remains respectful of religious freedom, this horrendous blight on our consience must lead not only to the most severe punishment of the perpetrator(s) of the atrocity on so many innocent souls, but tighter regulation (including self-regulation) of every church, mosque, temple or synagogue going forward."

Have there been any arrests linked to the Kenya cult?

Security personnel carry a rescued young person from the forest in Shakahola, outside the coastal town of Malindi - Credit: Getty ImagesSecurity personnel carry a rescued young person from the forest in Shakahola, outside the coastal town of Malindi - Credit: Getty Images
Security personnel carry a rescued young person from the forest in Shakahola, outside the coastal town of Malindi - Credit: Getty Images

Odero's megachurch, the New Life Prayer Centre Church, is located in Malindi County, where another pastor, Paul Mackenzie, is under investigation for ordering his followers to fast until they die.

Police have been exhuming bodies at a ranch owned by Mackenzie, where he moved in 2019 after closing his church in Malindi. As part of the move, he reportedly sold his TV channel to Odero.

Kenyans travel from all over the nation to visit Odero's church because they are fans of his channel, which is well-liked in Kenyan homes. His YouTube channel has more than 400,000 subscribers and 70 million views.

It is ALSO understood that police have arrested church leader Makenzie Nthenge, who turned himself in after two children starved to death in the custody of their own parents. Police were alerted to the pastor following a tip from members of the public which led them to raid his property, where they discovered 15 emancipated people - four of which later died.

Ntenge, who refused to eat or drink while in custody, has been released on bail worth 100,000 Kenyan shillings, which is around £560 or $700. Local media have also reported that six followers of the church leader have also been arrested.

How many bodies have been found linked to the Kenya cult?

After initially discovering 21 bodies after their search operation of dozens of shallow graves across Nthenge's farm was launched on Friday 21 April, authorities went on to find 27 more on Sunday 23 April, which brought the total to 47.

But now, the number of fatalities connected to the cult has increased to 103.