Among 31 children killed in church festival stampede in Nigeria

Abuja – A stampede on Saturday at a church charity event in southern Nigeria left 31 dead and seven injured, police told The Associated Press, a shocking development in a program aimed at bringing hope to those in need. A witness said a pregnant woman and many children were among the dead.

The rush to the event, organized by Pentecostal church Kings Assembly in Rivers state, affected people coming to the church’s annual Shop for Free charity program, police spokeswoman Grace Iringe-Koko said.

Such events are commonplace in Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, where more than 80 million people live in poverty, according to government statistics.

Saturday’s charity program was supposed to start at 9 a.m., but dozens showed up as early as 5 a.m. to secure their spot in line, Iringe-Koko said. Somehow the locked gate was broken open, prompting a stampede, she said.

Godwin Tepikor of Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency said first responders were able to evacuate the bodies of those trampled to death and take them to the morgue. Security forces cordoned off the area.


Dozens of local residents later thronged the site, mourning the dead and offering the rescue workers every conceivable help. Doctors and rescue workers treated some of the injured while they lay in an open field. Videos from the scene showed the clothing, shoes and other items intended for the beneficiaries.

A witness who identified himself only as Daniel said “among the dead were so many children.” Five of the dead children were from one mother, he told the AP, adding that a pregnant woman also lost her life.

Some church members were attacked and injured by relatives of the victims after the onslaught, according to witness Christopher Eze. The church declined to comment on the situation.

The police spokeswoman said the seven injured were “responding to treatment”.

The Shop for Free event has been suspended while authorities investigate how the rush happened.

Nigeria has seen similar rushes in the past.


Twenty-four people died in a crowded church gathering in the southeastern state of Anambra in 2013, while at least 16 people were killed in 2014 when a crowd scrambled during a screening for government agencies in the capital, Abuja.

Associated Press journalist Hilary Uguru in Warri, Nigeria contributed.

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Sarah Y. Kim

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