ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) – As attackers opened fire on worshipers at a Catholic church in southwestern Nigeria, other gunmen waited outside to kill those who tried to flee, church officials and witnesses said Monday.
At least 50 people, including children, were killed in the attack, according to a state legislator from the area.
Worshipers had just arrived for Sunday mass on Pentecost when gunfire broke out at St. Francis Catholic Church in Ondo State, Bishop Jude Arogundade of the Catholic Diocese of Ondo said.
Steven Omotayo, who lives near the church, rushed to the crime scene when he heard the shots.
“I have seen many dead bodies – both young and old, even children,” he said. “People came in and started firing from the gate.”
He said the church has three entrances and the main entrance would be locked, making it difficult for many to escape.
“They were just shooting. If they see someone trying to escape or get up, they’ll just shoot the person,” he said. “Everyone standing was shot at with bullets.”
It was not immediately known who was behind the massacre at the church and authorities said the gunmen managed to flee the scene. While Northern Nigeria has been fighting an Islamist insurgency for more than 13 years, Ondo state has long been considered one of the most peaceful states in the country.
Hospital staff struggled to treat dozens of injured after the attack. The Nigeria Medical Association in Ondo state ordered all available doctors to go to the hospitals to provide assistance to dozens of seriously injured people.
“At one point, even our blood bank ran out of blood and we had to plead for blood,” said a doctor from the Federal Medical Center in Owo who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to journalists.
“Even as a doctor I have cared for a large number of victims, but what I saw yesterday was far beyond what I have seen before in my life and in practice.”