The death toll from Monday’s bloody confrontation between two factions of the Legio Maria adherents at Got Kwer shrine in Migori has reportedly risen to eight.
Pope Lawrence Kalul, a leader of one of the factions condemned brutality meted out on the faithful after police intervened to quell the chaos.
He said three more members had succumbed to their injuries while two minors were still missing.
Migori County commissioner Mr Boaz Cherotich declined to comment on the matter despite the Monday evening reports that five people had succumbed to gunshot wounds.
Police confirmed that five people had died from the clashes while seven others including a female police officer sustained serious injuries from the attack.
The church has for years been rocked by violence over leadership wrangles.
— KBC Channel1 News (@KBCChannel1) September 15, 2020
On Monday, police officers fired in the air and lobbed teargas canisters to disperse the rival groups as they fought over the pilgrimage site.
Early on Tuesday, the faithful started making their way out of the shrine using any available means. Those who could not manage to use public transport and motorbike trekked back after word went round that there was an impending wave of fresh attacks.
Migori county police commander Mr Manaseh Musyoka had earlier stated two people died during the confrontation while three others succumbed to gunshot wounds at Got Kweru dispensary where they were rushed for first aid.
“The five were part of the faithful who confronted anti-riot police sent to quell tension at the Legio Maria headquarters in Migori. They were taken to Migori County Hospital mortuary while the injured were transferred to Migori County Referral Hospital,” he told reporters.
Tension started when members of Pope Raphael Adika led his followers for a prayer session at the headquarters, sparking violent protest from his opponents.
Adika and his followers received a hostile reception by followers of the church’s splinter group that is now headed by Pope Laurence Kalul.
They stoned his convoy burning down one of the vehicles and injuring several people forcing police to intervene.
The long protracted antagonism dates back to 1990 after the death of the church’s founder Melkio Ondetto leading to the emergence of two splinter groups.
A court case to determine the legitimate leader of the church is set for later this month.