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Kenyan father searches for wife and six children among dead cult members

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Stephen Mwiti holds a photograph of his late wife Joan Bahati, a follower of a Christian cult named “Good News International Church”, who believed they would go to heaven, if they starved themselves to death alongside his six children in Shakahola, outside the Malindi sub district hospital mortuary in Malindi, Kilifi county, Kenya April 26, 2023. REUTERS/Monicah Mwangi

Stephen Mwiti was too distraught to go identify the bodies of his wife and six children among the corpses of dozens of cult members recovered from Shakahola forest and brought to a mortuary in Kenya’s coastal town of Malindi on Wednesday.

“My children are gone. The children who have been rescued, I went and had a look and I did not see my children,” Mwiti said as he waved a photo of his wife and four of the children.

He has been carrying the fading, dog-eared photo in a plastic bag for the last six months or so as he searched for his young ones.

Mwiti said his wife took the children in 2021 to live among members of the Good News International Church, 89 of whom are known to have died. The Kenyan Red Cross says more than 300 people have been reported missing.

“That wife, even if they recover her body, I will not collect it,” Mwiti said. “These problems I am experiencing, she is the one who brought them to me.”

The leader of the cult, Paul Mackenzie has been in police custody since April 14, held alongside 14 other cult members.

Hospital workers and Mwiti told Reuters that Mackenzie had told his followers the world would end soon and instructed them to starve themselves to be the first to reach heaven. Authorities have recovered 81 bodies from shallow graves, while eight cult members died after being found alive.

Reuters has not been able to reach any lawyer or representative who could speak on Mackenzie’s behalf regarding the accusations against him.

Mwiti said he once attempted to rescue his wife and children from the forest, where he saw them living with Mackenzie and about 50 other women and their children.

“We could see people in the distance but there was no way to get to them. We went round and round until we spotted a car somewhere in the forest,” Mwiti said.

“We tried calling out and nobody was responding to our calls. We cleared the way in. It’s then that we saw Mackenzie.”

He said Mackenzie told them they could not pick up the children since they had all gone deeper into the forest.

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