A woman who lost her parents in the southwestern Nigerian city of Owo said they regularly attended the Catholic church where a mass shooting killed dozens of people and left several injured on Sunday.
A local lawmaker told CNN Monday that “close to 50 people, including children” were killed after attackers stormed into St. Francis Catholic Church in the city of Owo and began “shooting sporadically.”
“The death toll was quite large,” said Adeyemi Olayemi, the legislator representing the Owo constituency in the Ondo State House of Assembly. “So far, we have counted close to 50 dead bodies, including children. I saw the bodies of many kids.”
Olayemi added that “the attackers came in motorcycles and started shooting sporadically … they killed many people inside the church.”
Laide Ajanaku lost her both parents in the gruesome attack.
“We heard it was an explosion at first, then we started panicking and calling everyone for information,” Ajanaku told CNN Monday.
“Somebody had my dad’s phone. I still don’t know who that person was. The person picked up and said my dad had been injured and had been taken to the hospital, but he didn’t know anything about my mum’s whereabouts. He later said my dad didn’t make it. We eventually got through to a priest friend who confirmed that my mum had died as well.”
Ajanaku said her parents’ bodies were later identified at the morgue. Her father John Adesina Ajanaku, 67, and mother Olabimpe Susanah, 64, never missed church on a Sunday, she said.
“They never missed Mass. My dad was a knight and the chairman of the Catholic Men Organization. He was very religious and doctrinal. There was no doubt in my mind that they had witnessed the attack at the very least, but I didn’t know that they would be so affected,” Ajanaku said, adding that the church can hold about 500 people when full.
State police could not confirm the total number of casualties, a police spokesperson told CNN Sunday, nor could they yet identify those behind the attack.
A police statement said, “the assailants approached the church during the service, started shooting from outside the church while others numbering about four shot directly into the church,” citing a preliminary investigation.
Ondo State Governor Rotimi Akeredolu said he was “shocked” by the attack and called it a “black Sunday in Owo.”
Ajanaku said her parents were always together, even in death. She said she wasn’t surprised they died together, as one couldn’t live without the other.
Pope Francis said he was praying for the victims who were “painfully attacked at a time of celebration,” a statement from the Vatican said.
Lethal attacks by motorbike-riding gangs are rare in southwestern Nigeria. Such attacks are more widespread in large parts of the country’s north, which is constantly under siege by Boko Haram terrorists and marauding gunmen known locally as ‘bandits.’
The Owo church attack comes one week after another church tragedy when 31 people were killed and others injured during a stampede at a church event in the southeastern Nigerian city of Port Harcourt.