Autopsy: Shakahola cult 'strangled', suffocated members

Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki (centre), DCI Homicide Director Martin Nyuguto (left) and Chief Government Pathologist Johansen Oduor speak to journalists yesterday.

Some of the victims of the cult operating in Kilifi’s Shakahola Forest were killed through suffocation and strangulation, post-mortem examinations on some of the 110 bodies exhumed have shown.

The exercise that was led by Chief Government Pathologist Johansen Odour yesterday at the Malindi Sub-county Hospital mortuary indicated two children died through suffocation due to the blockage of the mouth and nose.

Yesterday, the team managed to examine the bodies of nine children and one woman. The children's ages ranged from one-and-a-half to 10 years, according to Dr Odour.

“They generally had features of starvation...But two bodies of children had cyanosis, or the bluish discolouration of finger nails ... caused by asphyxiation. This means they were denied oxygen at the time of death and could be an indicator that they may have been smothered,” Dr Odour said during a briefing. 

The findings now point to murder, especially of most of the children who are the majority of the victims of the cult activities led by Mackenzie.

Mr Mackenzie is due in court in Malindi today. Dr Odour said the exercise was initially challenging as they had to set up X-ray machines for age estimation.

“All the bodies had features of starvation. We saw there was no food in the stomach as the layer of fat was very small. The liver was fatty, an indication of starvation,” Dr Odour stated.

The examination further revealed that all body parts were intact but the levels of decomposition made it difficult to tell the accurate time when the victims were starved or killed.

Families with missing or dead relatives will also have their DNA collected from today for matching. 

Separately, Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki revealed that a commission of inquiry will be formed to investigate the Shakahola cult deaths and recommend action to be taken against public officers who will be found culpable of neglecting duty.

Prof Kindiki said the team will be looking into the deaths and recommend accountability measures.

"Those who are asking whether public officials will be accountable, there will be a process of accountability in the coming days. We will find out how our people met their deaths in such a manner. Any person in the path of accountability will have their date with destiny," he said.

"The commission of inquiry will recommend actions that must be taken against any public officer whose action, inaction, failure or outright negligence could have caused the deaths of our people."

Prof Kindiki added that no more bodies will be exhumed due to bad weather conditions as focus turns to identifying the 110 remains that were unearthed last month.

"The exhumation remains suspended for now because of the heavy rains and will resume at such a time when it is determined safe to do so. We don't want to interfere with sampled evidence and the site," he said, adding that the area remains under police guard.

"In two days, we will deploy a helicopter to undertake aerial surveillance and we are waiting for a few operational issues to be sorted."

Head of Investigations at the Directorate of Criminal Investigations, Mr Abdallah Komesha, has been brought in to lead the team investigating the Shakahola mass deaths.

As of Tuesday last week, 461 people had been reported missing by family and friends.

"We are not sure all are associated with the Shakahola incident," ProfKidiki said. It is expected that the post-mortemswill take about a week although the process is not time-bound.

"DNA matching of victims and relatives could take a month or even more," Dr Oduor said.