Kenya hunger cult deaths reach 89, minister prays survivors will 'tell the story'
The death toll among followers of a Kenyan cult who believed they would go to heaven if they starved themselves has now risen to 89, Kenya's Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki said on Tuesday.
The toll has steadily risen in recent days as authorities have carried out exhumations of mass graves found in an 800-acre area of the Shakahola forest in eastern Kenya where the self-proclaimed Good News International Church was based.
"I am informed by those who are responsible that, until now, over and above the figure that was given yesterday at 73, we have been able to discover until this hour another 16 bodies, bringing the total to 89," Kindiki told reporters at the scene.
He added that three more people had been rescued alive, bringing the total number of survivors found so far to 34.
"We thank God for saving the lives of those dear ones and we pray that God will help them to go through the trauma, to help them recover and tell the story of how one time a fellow Kenyan, a fellow human, decided to hurt so many people, heartlessly, hiding under the Holy Scriptures," said Kindiki.
The death toll could rise further. The Kenyan Red Cross said more than 200 people had been reported missing to a tracing and counselling desk it has set up at a local hospital.
The cult's leader, Paul Mackenzie, was arrested on April 14 following a tip-off that suggested the existence of shallow graves containing the bodies of large numbers of his followers. Kenyan media have reported that he is refusing food and water.
Reuters was not able to reach any lawyer or representative for Mackenzie.
Police said on Monday that another 14 cult members were also in custody.