Stephen Mwiti was too distraught to go identify the bodies of his wife and six children among the corpses of dozens of cult members recovered from Shakahola forest and brought to a mortuary in Kenya's coastal town of Malindi on Wednesday.
"My children are gone. I did not see them from the children who have been rescued," Mwiti said as he waved a photo of his wife and four of the children.
He has been carrying the fading dog-eared photo in a plastic bag for the last six months or so as he searched for his young ones.
Mwiti said his wife took the children in 2021 to live among members of the Good News International Church, 103 of whom are known to have died. The Kenyan Red Cross says more than 300 people have been reported missing.
"Even if they recover my wife’s body, I will not collect it. She is the one who brought all these problems I am experiencing,” Mwiti said.
The Kenyan cult leader Paul Mackenzie has been in police custody since April 14, alongside 14 other cult members.
Instructed to starve
Hospital workers and Mwiti told Reuters that Mackenzie had told his followers the world would end soon and instructed them to starve themselves to be the first to reach heaven. Kenyan authorities have recovered 81 bodies from shallow graves, while eight cult members died after being found alive.
Reuters has not been able to reach any lawyer or representative who could speak on Mackenzie's behalf regarding the accusations against him.
Mwiti said he once attempted to rescue his wife and children from the forest, where he saw them living with Mackenzie and about 50 other women and their children.
"We could see people in the distance but there was no way to get to them. We went round and round until we spotted a car somewhere in the forest," Mwiti said.
"We tried calling out and nobody was responding to our calls. We cleared the way in. It's then that we saw Mackenzie."
He said Mackenzie told them they could not pick up the children since they had all gone deeper into the forest.