Thousands of Liberians gathered for a national memorial service over the weekend to mourn the 29 people killed in a stampede during a Pentecostal revival service on Jan. 19.
The panic began when local gang members attacked worshippers returning home around 9 p.m., after a two-day Christian crusade event in New Kru Town, a low-income neighborhood of Monrovia, Liberia’s capital.
The armed attackers robbed several of the attendees as they left the high school soccer field where the event took place and wounded others who tried to flee, Reuters reported. As people fled, some began falling, tripping and trampling over one another.
On Feb. 12, government officials, spiritual leaders and families of the victims gathered at See Faith Ministries Center in New Kru Town, wearing black t-shirts that read “Our Hearts Bleed.”
Montserrado County District 16 Representative Dixon Wlawlee Sebo unveiled a headstone monument constructed to remember the victims — 18 adults, including a pregnant woman, and 11 children. Of the 15 people who survived serious injury, seven are children.
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“When memorial monuments are made, they are made so that days after days and years after years, we will find a place that we can always return to remember the souls of God,’’ Sebo said at the memorial.
Also speaking at the memorial site, Bishop P. Manasseh Conto — the senior pastor of New Kru Town’s Mission for Today Holy Church who is considered the spiritual leader of the county by many — said Liberians have assembled to celebrate the return home of their fellow compatriots.
“Our brothers and sisters who died here came here for the love of Jesus Christ, and they suddenly lost their lives,” he said. “We come here this morning to tell our bereaved brothers, sisters and those who got injured that all hope is not lost, and the vacuum they have created, the almighty God will fill that vacuum.
“This stone is built here to remember their memories, and we pray that such thing will never happen here and throughout the length and breadth of our country.”
Liberian President George M. Weah ordered the Liberia National Police to investigate the cause of the stampede. The ongoing investigation seeks to ascertain whether or not there is criminal culpability.
In their investigation, police have questioned the event’s organizer, pastor Abraham Kromah of Word of Life Outreach Mission International, who runs a radio ministry and preaches about how his encounter with Jesus while still a Muslim changed his life and caused his conversion to Christianity.
Pundits have underscored the need for religious leaders and pastors of the Christian community to discuss ways to safeguard their congregations at mass events such as rallies and crusades to prevent a reoccurrence of this tragedy.
This story was originally published by Religion Unplugged.
Kaipee Luther Newray is an independent journalist based in Liberia.