Kenyan authorities dug up more bodies found in mass graves linked to a cult whose pastor allegedly ordered his followers to starve to death to meet Jesus, authorities said Tuesday, bringing the death toll above 300.
The 19 bodies were recovered within the 800-acre forested land in Kilifi County of coastal Kenya, where pastor Paul Mackenzie and his followers lived.
The discovery brings the number of deaths tied to the cult to 303, with the toll expected to rise as officials said more mass grave sites were earmarked for exhumation.
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.
Makenzie was arrested on April 14 after authorities received a tip that dozens of people were starving to death. Investigators found the pastor’s emaciated followers, whom he had allegedly told that starvation was a way to meet with Jesus.
Makenzie was already under investigation after a 2019 arrest in connection with the deaths of children. He was arrested again in March, but was released on bond both times.
Kenya is a highly religious country, with approximately 85.5% of Kenyans identifying as Christian and 11% as Muslim, according to the U.S. State Department.
Mackenzie is expected back in court this week after police were granted more time to hold him pending investigations.
Kenyan President William Ruto has likened Mackenzie to a terrorist, while Interior Minister Kindiki Kithure suggested the pastor might be charged with terrorism or genocide-related offenses.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.