At least 29 people, including 11 children and a pregnant woman, were killed when robbers triggered a stampede at a religious rally in Liberia’s capital, officials said on Thursday.
The disaster occurred at around 9pm on Wednesday at a Christian prayer gathering in New Kru Town, a poor suburb of Monrovia, police spokesman Moses Carter told AFP.
The death toll is provisional and “may increase” as some people are in critical condition, Carter said.
A group of young boys attempted to rob worshippers as they were leaving the gathering, causing them to retreat in panic, he said.
Deputy Minister for Press Jallawah Tonpoe told reporters at Monrovia’s Redemption Hospital that there were 11 children and a pregnant woman among the 29 dead.
Fifteen people have also been admitted to hospital, he said, including seven children.
President George Weah declared a three-day period of mourning and ordered an investigation, his office stated.
Local media said the event was a Christian prayer meeting — known in Liberia as a “crusade” — held on a football pitch in New Kru Town.
Such gatherings typically gather thousands of people in Liberia, a highly religious country where a majority of the population of five million are Christians.
Pastor Abraham Kromah, a popular preacher, staged the two-day prayer event, which attracted large crowds, according to images circulating on social media.
One of the attendees, Elisabeth Wesseh, told AFP that “zogo boys” — a local term for young criminals — had threatened worshippers with knives at the entrance, demanding money and telephones.
“We got afraid and started rushing to the door,” the 34-year-old said, adding that the doorway was too narrow for everyone to get through.
Eye witness Emmanuel Gray, 26, told AFP he heard “heavy noise” towards the end of the event, and saw several dead bodies.
Liberia, Africa’s oldest republic, is an impoverished country that is still recovering after back-to-back civil wars between 1989-2003, which killed about 250,000 people.
It was also ravaged by the 2014-2016 West Africa Ebola epidemic.
According to the World Bank, 44 percent of Liberia’s population lives on less than $1.9 a day.
Accidents and disasters are also relatively common.
A stampede at a similar prayer event in the center of Liberia in November 2021 killed two infants, and hospitalized several others, according to local media.
Seventeen people were also reported missing after a shipwreck off the country’s coast in July last year. And about 50 people died in a mine collapse in the northwestern Liberia in May 2020.