(CNN) Kenyan police have begun exhuming more than a dozen suspected graves in the east of the country believed to contain followers of a Christian sect that believes they will go to heaven if they starve themselves to death.
On Thursday, homicide detectives marked patches of earth with sticks and yellow tape in Chakhula Forest in Kilifi County, near the site where police rescued 15 Good News International Church members last week, according to a segment broadcast by Citizen TV.
Police began exhuming the bodies on Friday, said Charles Kamau, a detective in the nearby town of Malindi, without giving further details.
The church’s leader, Paul Mackenzie, was arrested after receiving a tip-off which also indicated the existence of shallow graves belonging to at least 31 of Mackenzie’s followers.
McKenzie’s lawyer could not be reached for comment.
Police said the 15 rescued worshipers were told to starve themselves to death so that they could meet their Creator.
Four of them died before they reached the hospital.
Titus Catana, a former member of the church, helped the police identify the graves.
“We showed the graves to the police, and in addition, we saved the life of a woman who had only a few hours left, otherwise she would have died too,” Katana told Citizen TV.
Matthew Chipita of the human rights group Haki Africa said he saw at least 15 shallow graves in the jungle.
Helen Micale, the director of a children’s home who was also assisting investigators, said she visited several nearby villages where parents and children had disappeared.
“Personally, I visited about 18 children’s graves,” Mikali told Citizen TV. She did not say how she knew the graves contained the remains of children.
Last month, police arrested and later released Mackenzie, whom they identified as Paul Nthingi Mackenzie, for encouraging the parents of two to starve and choke their children to death.
During his court appearance in that case, Nthingi said he was unaware of the events that led to the deaths of the two boys, adding that he had been the target of hostile propaganda from some of his former colleagues, the Standard reported.
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