A total of 110 people have been confirmed dead in a Kenyan forest, believed to have starved themselves after following the teachings of a cult called The Good News International Church.
The church taught that the end of the world was coming and its followers should starve themselves before that time, and then they would go to heaven.
Children were to die first, then the unmarried, then mothers and the elderly, and then lastly, the church’s leaders.
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The leader Paul Mackenzie now faces charges of terrorism, murder, kidnapping and cruelty towards children.
On today’s The Briefing episode, we speak to the Guardian reporter Caroline Kimeau on the ground about how this tragedy came about.
Kimeau first heard initial inklings and was alarmed by the whistleblower who had rescued a child from a remote forest. The child told them people were starving themselves in the forest, among other things.
Kimeau described the leader Paul Mackenzie as a “very charismatic and controversial” figure.
If you talk to locals, they will tell you to literally talk to this guy for 30 minutes, and you might join that starvation call. This is how convinced people are,”Kimeau said.
Ideally, people would want to look at the father of boys of his cult and think, perhaps it was just extreme vulnerability,”she said.
The truth is that his followers come from quite a bit of a range like it’s such a mixed group. They’re not only from one specific class,”she added.
Kimeau said one of the children who managed to escape was from a family who were following the starvation cult. He had to leave all his siblings inside the forest and find an orphanage.
The child’s parents would only give him and his siblings porridge every evening, then lock them up in the house so they could not leave.
These are situations where people don’t even know the status of their loved ones. Are they alive?”
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