An Attack In Nigeria's Ondo State Has Resulted In The Death Of Over 50 Churchgoers

A Nigerian woman prays in a catholic church
Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP via Getty Images

The mass shooting took place during service at St Francis Catholic church this Sunday, and marks one of the deadliest attacks in recent history.

A group of gunmen posing as churchgoers opened fire on worshippers at the St Francic Catholic Church in Owo, Ondo State, Nigeria on Sunday morning. The attack saw dozens of lives end, as community members gathered to pray -- many unknowingly making their final prayers.

The church sits in the same neighborhood as the headquarters of the Owo Local Government Area of Ondo State and is the hometown of state Governor Rotimi Akeredolu. The gruesome attack comes barely a week after the kidnapping of Bishop Samuel Kanu-Ucheand a string of murders at the hands of Fulani youths.

Reports claim that the gunmen arrived at the Church around noon when Sunday mass was reaching its conclusion. Churchgoers, mostly women, and children, were murdered as the attackers were said to have thrown an 'improvised explosive device' into the room, before spraying the place of worship with bullets.

Grizzly details have emerged as survivors recount their traumatic experiences and share footage online. One survivor, Mary Williams, spoke to PUNCH Nigeriaand detailed her observations as she left the service. "The mass ended and I got out to be going home," Williams recalls, "I was beside the fence of the church when suddenly I heard those sporadic gunshots. Initially, I thought they were armed robbers trying to rob somebody but I later discovered that the heavy sounds of gunshots were inside the church.

"I jumped into a gutter where I hid. It was like we were on a war front the way the gunmen were shooting for about 15 minutes. My legs were injured and I was taken to the hospital and discharged.” Reverend Father Andrew Abayomi, the presiding priest at the church, echoed accounts by stating that the assailants stormed the church as mass was ending.

One of the most vicious attacks in Southern Nigeria to date, Owo State representativeOlayemi Adeyemi reports that the attack was conducted by herdmen of Fulani extraction. While speaking to the press in Owo, Adeyemi said, “The gunmen invaded the religious premises with explosives which they detonated before opening live rounds on members while church service was ongoing. The attack was a reprisal aimed at sending a message to Governor Rotimi Akeredolu who chased away violent Fulani pastoralists from the area."

“Locals around the church premises saw the attackers who were on the run after unleashing the horrific act on the church," he continued, "They were armed herdsmen of Fulani extraction, a tribe accused of spearheading insecurity across the country.”

The Nigerian people have expressed their dissatisfaction with how local media have reported the incident as a 'fire explosion'. Many took to social media to express their heartache, anger, and condolences to those unnecessarily slain over the weekend.