Inside a Kenyan starvation cult and its tragic end in a forest of death

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MALINDI, Kenya, May 4 (Reuters) – Kenyan cult leader Paul Mackenzie lived with hundreds of followers in makeshift homes of polythene sheeting and thatch in a remote forest camp that he divided into areas with biblical names like Jerusalem and Judea, relatives of his adherents say.

He told them the world as they knew it was going to end on April 15 and Satan would rule for 1,000 years, according to the relatives and a senior police investigator. He ordered them to starve themselves and their children to death so they could meet Jesus in heaven ahead of that date, they said.

“I heard the voice of Christ telling me that the work I gave you to preach end-time messages for nine years has come to an end,” Mackenzie said in a video posted on YouTube in March. “I followed the voice that told me that I had finished the work.”

Weeks later, his cult became the focus of national horror with the discovery in late April of more than 100 bodies – mostly children – in mass graves in the Shakahola forest of southeast Kenya, home to his Good News International Church.

Mackenzie, 50, is in police custody and has yet to be required to enter a plea to any charge related to the mass graves, which are still being exhumed. Two lawyers acting for him declined to comment.

Reuters has pieced together a comprehensive picture of Mackenzie and his cult from court records and interviews with 10 people with knowledge of the group, including relatives of victims, medical workers who treated dozens of survivors and the police investigator, who is involved in the ongoing case.

Mackenzie planned the mass starvation of cult members in three phases: first children, then women and young men, and finally the remaining men and he himself, according to six of the people including the investigator, who declined to be named due to the confidential nature of the details.

The investigator also said Mackenzie was denying that he told anyone not to eat, adding that the cult leader had said he himself had been eating.

A police spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment for this article.

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