'I was shocked to see on TV my son arrested alongside Paul Mackenzie'

Paul Mackenzie

Kilifi cult leader Paul Mackenzie (left) and his co-accused in a Malindi court on May 2, 2023.

Photo credit: Wachira Mwangi | Nation Media Group

As the country was closely following the Shakahola deaths updates on news outlets, so was Ms Lilian Kabarika.

But the news on the night of May 2 left her in shock and disbelief. That night, a video of her son walking out of Malindi police station, accompanied by Paul Mackenzie and escorted by police, was broadcast on television.

At first, she wrestled with her thoughts, telling herself it was not her son. Until her son was once again shown in a courtroom.

“I ran out of my house while the news was still on to ask my sister if what I saw on the news was true or I was hallucinating,” says Ms Kabarika.

Her sister had heard the news on the radio.

“We still did not believe it was him. I called his brother and asked him if he had seen the news, but he had no idea,” Ms Kabarika add.

The younger brother proceeded to do a search online.

“We saw a video of him foaming at the mouth. That convinced us that it was indeed my son.”

She had to find a way to travel from Kakamega to Malindi, a town she had never set foot in, to get more details. She wanted to understand how her son ended up there.

Ms Kabarika’s trip to Malindi was painful for her and her immediate family.

“We went to the hospital in search of my grandchildren, but it was fruitless,” she says.

Changed name

At the Malindi police station, she asked to see her son, Baron Chaenza, but when the police brought him out, they identified him as Collins.

“He had even changed his name. Who is Collins? He is called Baron,” says the distressed mother. 

Ms Kabarika recalls her son saying goodbye to her, telling her he was travelling to Mombasa where his wife and children had already moved.

“I begged him not to go. We have no relatives in the coast region, but he insisted that he had to go because his wife and children were already there,” Ms Kabarika says.

Communication between them was good until two weeks ago.

“Baron called me crying. I tried to find out what was wrong, but he would not say a word, he just kept sobbing,” says Ms Kabarika.

The family is now torn between rejoicing that their loved one is alive and grieving that he is in police custody.

“At the moment, we do not know where my grandchildren or my daughter-in-law are; Baron does not want to reveal their whereabouts,” Ms Kabarika says. “The police are telling us that he could be jailed for life, and they suspect that he killed his family and wanted to commit suicide.” 

Kenya Red Cross Coastal Manager Hassan Musa said they have registered 558 missing people so far.

Yesterday, Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki, who was in Malindi to oversee the resumption of exhumations that were suspended last week due to bad weather, described the Shakahola deaths as a highly organised crime.

“I am afraid we have a lot of graves,” Prof Kindiki said. “The damage is quite extensive. The process is far from over.” 

The CS also revealed that detectives were zeroing in on Mackenzie’s co-conspirators.

Some 21 bodies were exhumed yesterday.

The death toll now stands at 133, out of which 112 have undergone autopsy.

Police believe most of the bodies belong to followers of Mackenzie, who is accused of ordering them to starve themselves “to meet Jesus”.

While starvation appears to be the main cause of death, some of the victims, including children, were strangled, beaten or suffocated, according to government pathologist Johansen Oduor.