(AP) — The number of people who died after a Kenyan pastor ordered his followers to starve to death in order to meet Jesus has surpassed 300, authorities said Tuesday, and the death toll is expected to rise as more exhumations are planned.
The death toll increased to 303 after 19 more bodies were recovered from mass graves in the vast forested land in Kilifi County of coastal Kenya, where pastor Paul Mackenzie and his followers lived.
Coastal regional commissioner Rhoda Onyancha told local journalists that 613 people tied to the area are missing.
On Monday, 65 of the 95 parishioners whom authorities said they rescued from the property were charged with attempting suicide after they staged a hunger strike to protest being held at a shelter. They were moved to a jail.
Police went to MacKenzie’s property in April after investigators received a tip that dozens of people were starving to death after their pastor told them it was a way to meet Jesus. The emaciated followers were treated at a Malindi hospital before they were taken to the shelter.
Mackenzie is expected back in court this week after police were granted more time to hold him pending investigations.
Before his arrest in April, the pastor had been charged in connection with the disappearance of children but was released on bond. Kenyan President William Ruto has likened Mackenzie to a terrorist.
Interior Minister Kindiki Kithure said more mass graves were earmarked for exhumation. He suggested the pastor might be charged terrorism or genocide-related offenses.