At least 29 people, including 11 children, have died following a stampede during a Christian crusade in the densely populated New Kru Town, a suburb of the capital Monrovia.
The crusade was organised on the D. Tweah sports pitch by renowned prophetic preacher Pastor Abraham Kromah of the Word of Life Outreach Ministries, a Church he built and oversees as its pastor.
According to eyewitnesses and survivors, the stampede occurred late Wednesday night local time when a group of criminals, predominantly disadvantaged youths, stormed the crusade grounds attacking worshippers.
“When Pastor Kromah concluded his deliverance preaching, those who attempted to leave the crusade grounds came under attack from disadvantaged youths,” Abdul D. Kanneh told RFI.
The worshippers ran back due to fear, and collided with those on the playing pitch which resulted in the stampede,” added Kanneh, a communications manager at Liberia’s Maritime Authority who helped rescue those who were trampled.
The disadvantaged youths are drug addicted young men and women, some of whom were child soldiers during Liberia’s 14 years of civil war that ended in 2005.
“We tried to evacuate people from the crusade venue to the hospital but the majority of those we brought here did not survive,” he said tearfully.
Victims’ families devastated
Families at the scene tried to find their loved ones. Mercy Teah, a mother of three, was told her daughter died during the incident.
“I advised her not to go but she went along with her aunty to the crusade, and I cannot see any of them,” she said in tears.
Martha Tarpeh, 48, has not been able to see her husband and two children, as doctors were not allowing her access to the morgue.
Their deaths could have been avoided if the pastor had implemented appropriate security measures to avoid overcrowding, said Philip-Boye Merchant, a local leader within the township.
He regrets that Pastor Kromah hosted the crusade without seeking permission from local authorities to provide security.
Merchant, a district chairperson, said he had not received any written communication about the crusade.
“As you are aware the government has banned public gatherings of more than 50 people in relation to the fight against Covid-19,” he said.
After the tragedy, many Liberians are calling for a stronger drug law and ban on the sale of illicit drugs.
Liberia imposes three days of mourning
President George Weah has declared a 3-day state of national mourning following the catastrophe.
Speaking to journalists following the incident, Weah expressed disappointment that the host of the crusade did not take into consideration the number of people attending the event.
“Going forward, we will institute measures. Many juveniles have died. We need to know what age of people should be allowed to go to a crusade, the size of the place and the number of people attending such an event,” he said.
Police Inspector General Patrick Sudue is saddened that the pastor did not inform the police about the event.
“During the stampede, the fire service came in and started splashing water to resuscitate those suffocated,” said Sudue.
He says the police are investigating the matter and have invited the pastor for questioning. Five of the attackers have been arrested.
RFI visited the home of Pastor Kromah within the Barnesville community outside Monrovia but was told that he had been taken to an unknown location for fear of being attacked by angry family members.
According to his followers, he performs miracles for people, encouraging his followers to "sow seeds" by selling anointing oil. He claims God has anointed him with the Holy Spirit to lay hands on people and heal them. As a result, thousands of people usually follow him wherever he goes.