Initial autopsies show children starved, asphyxiated in Kenyan cult

FILE PHOTO: Kenyans seek relatives among starvation cult victims in Malindi

By George Obulutsa

NAIROBI (Reuters) - The bodies of several children exhumed in eastern Kenya showed signs of starvation and in some cases asphyxiation, a government pathologist said on Monday, as investigators began the first autopsies on over 100 people linked to a doomsday cult.

On Monday investigators said they had completed 10 autopsies, comprising nine children aged between 18 months and 10 years, and one female adult, from the 101 bodies discovered last month in shallow graves in Shakahola Forest, Kilifi County.

Authorities say the dead were followers of the Good News International Church, lead by pastor Paul Mackenzie, whom they accuse of instructing worshippers to starve themselves to death in order to be the first to go to heaven before the end of the world.

Eight cult members who were found emaciated in the forest died later. So far, 44 people have been rescued.

Mackenzie has been in police custody since April 14 alongside 14 other suspected cult members.

"Generally, most of them had features of starvation. We saw features of people who had not eaten. There was no food in the stomach," chief government pathologist Johansen Oduor told reporters.

Two showed signs of asphyxiation, he added.

The deaths amount to one of the worst cult-related tragedies in recent history and the toll is expected to rise further, with the Kenyan Red Cross saying more than 300 people have been reported missing.

Mackenzie has made no public comment. Reuters spoke to two lawyers acting for Mackenzie but both declined to comment on the accusations against him.

Children account for most of the bodies recovered so far, Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki said on Friday.

Oduor said the government was collecting DNA samples from people who had reported missing relatives. He said the matching process would take at least a month to complete.

On Sunday, President William Ruto said he would appoint a judicial commission of inquiry this week to probe what happened in Shakahola.

(Reporting by George Obulutsa; Writing by Hereward Holland; Editing by Sofia Christensen, Angus MacSwan and Leslie Adler)