At least 29 people, including 11 children, have been pronounced dead after a stampede at a church gathering in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, Wednesday night.
Hundreds were in attendance at an all-night Christian crusade, which took place at an open-air Pentecostal church on the outskirts of the capital in the New Kru Town neighborhood when the incident happened, Deputy Information Minister Jalawah Tonpo told state radio Thursday.
“The doctors said 29 persons died and some are on the critical list,” Tonpo said while visiting a local hospital. “This is a sad day for the country.”
According to police officials who spoke with BBC, the stampede occurred after a street gang entered the revival area after a monetary collection was taken at the end of the event.
The worship event was organized by a well-known pastor known as Apostle Abraham Kromah, a radio host who pastors the World of Life Outreach International, the news outlet reports.
Kromah is believed by his followers to have the ability to heal people through prayers.
An attendee named Exodus Morias told Reuters that the stampede began after a group of armed men tried to stage the robbery.
“We saw a group of men with cutlasses and other weapons coming toward the crowd,” Morias said. “While running, some people dropped and others fell on the ground and walked over them.”
Gang violence is not uncommon in the Liberian streets.
Armed gangs known as Zogos commit robberies armed with small weapons.
National police spokesman Moses Carter told AFP that the death toll could rise, as 29 is a provisional count. Many in attendance were in critical condition. Children also died, he said. Carter had told BBC that Kromah was questioned to assist in the investigation.
Carter said the dead bodies were taken to Redemption Hospital.
A three-day period of mourning was declared nationally by President George Weah, according to his office.
The Liberian Red Cross and Disaster Management Agency has been called to assist victims of the tragedy.
This is not the first time that a deadly stampede has resulted in the loss of lives in Liberia. The Associated Press reports that a stampede at a similar event last November resulted in the deaths of two infants while several others were hospitalized.