Death Toll at Kenyan Cult's Ranch Rises to 90

17 more bodies exhumed after pastor allegedly told followers to starve themselves
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 24, 2023 4:45 PM CDT
Updated Apr 25, 2023 1:27 PM CDT
Kenya Cult Death Toll Rises to 73
Pastor Paul Makenzi, accompanied by some of his followers, appears at a court in Malindi, Kenya on Monday, April 17, 2023.   (AP Photo)
UPDATE Apr 25, 2023 1:27 PM CDT

The startling numbers continue to grow in Kenya: The death toll at a ranch owned by a pastor who is accused of leading a religious cult and ordering his followers to starve themselves reached 90 on Tuesday. The new figure came after police exhumed 17 more bodies, per the AP. The total number of those rescued while starving at the ranch now stands at 34. The Kenya Red Cross Society’s latest figure on the number of missing is 213, and authorities pledged on Tuesday to ramp up the search.

Apr 24, 2023 4:45 PM CDT

As the death toll rose Monday, Kenyan President William Ruto compared the dozens of starvation deaths among the followers of a pastor in the south of the country with the results of terrorist acts. He maintained that the pastor, Paul Makenzi, who is in police custody, should be in prison. "What we are seeing ... is akin to terrorism," Ruto said. "Mr. Makenzi ... pretends and postures as a pastor when in fact he is a terrible criminal." Makenzi was arrested on suspicion of telling his followers to fast to death in order to meet Jesus. A group of emaciated people were rescued alive, but some of them later died. Authorities then turned their attention to dozens of shallow graves marked with crosses on Makenzi's 800-acre ranch.

The total death toll now stands at 73, with 26 new bodies exhumed on Monday, Malindi sub-county police chief John Kemboi told the AP. Kemboi said investigators had received reinforcements and were able to cover more ground. The Kenyan Red Cross Society on Sunday said 112 people had been reported missing at a tracing desk set up at Malindi, where the pastor’s main church was located. Ruto said he had instructed law enforcement agencies to thoroughly investigate the matter as a criminal case not linked to any religion.

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Ruto, who was elected in 2022, was hyped as the country’s first evangelical Christian president. He has nominated several pastors into parliament and government agencies like the anticorruption commission. Makenzi remains in custody, and a court allowed investigators to hold him for two weeks as a probe into the deaths continues. The pastor had been arrested twice before—in 2019 and in March of this year—in relation to the deaths of children. Each time, he was released on bond, and both cases are still proceeding through the court. Local politicians have urged the court not to release him this time, decrying the spread of cults in the Malindi area.

(More Kenya stories.)

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