Armed men invaded a religious gathering Wednesday night outside the Liberian capital, Monrovia, police said, triggering a stampede that killed more than two dozen people.
Worshipers had gathered on a fenced-in soccer field outside a school in New Kru Town, a suburb of Monrovia, when the men attacked shortly after nightfall, attempting to “hijack their personal effects,” police spokesman Moses Carter told The Washington Post.
As attendees rushed toward the exit, panic enveloped the crowd, which stampeded, Carter said. At least 29 people have been confirmed dead at nearby Redemption Hospital — among them 11 children and a pregnant woman, Carter said. The toll is expected to grow.
Liberian President George Weah visited the injured Thursday afternoon. Doctors at Redemption Hospital said 15 people from the crusade had checked in — two with critical injuries. Officials described the episode as “shocking.”
“This is the first I’ve heard of a stampede at a crusade,” said Francis Kateh, the country’s chief medical officer.
The Liberian Red Cross and national emergency agency have been called to assist the injured and the families of the dead.
At least one person, who authorities say wielded a knife, was arrested in connection with the stampede. The country has declared three days of mourning.
Police were “not informed” that the crusade was taking place, said Carter, the police official, who added that the pastor who organized the gathering would be questioned.
“This is a tragedy,” said presidential press secretary Isaac Solo Kelgbeh. “Crusades are normally so peaceful. People are singing. People are praying.”
Timsit reported from London and Paquette from Dakar, Senegal.