Yesterday, pains, agony, gloom, and fear descended on the densely populated Owo in Ondo State, as still, unidentified gunmen opened fire on the congregation at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, which was celebrating the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples of Jesus after his ascension. At least 50 people were killed in the incident.
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The event happened early in the morning at the church on Owaluwa Street in Owo, when suspected bandits launched a major commando-style attack just as the mass was about to conclude. The attackers opened fire on the worshipers and set off dynamites, which caused portions of the building to fall in.
It was a gruesome sight, as the chapel was littered with dead bodies, both elderly and young, predominantly mothers and children. Internal organs were splattered over the temple ground after some victims were mutilated.
After the dust settled, the throng of sympathizers expressed disappointment with the police response to their distress call, despite the fact that a security source revealed that despite having a standby squad, the two divisions, area command, and mobile police in Owo do not have operational vehicles.
They revealed that the intruders did not arrive with automobiles in order to carry out the operation, but instead stole vehicles from motorists on the Owo-Akure Road in order to flee.
Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu came home after attending the APC National Presidential Convention in Abuja to oversee certain security measures.
Soldiers and other security services were spotted on the site attempting to restore order as their vehicles were being utilized to transport remains from the church to nearby morgues.
Mr. Kehinde Ogunkorode, one of the eyewitnesses, stated that there were several casualties on the premises, which is located not far from the palace of the Olowo of Owo, Oba Ajibade Gbadegesin Ogunoye. He went on to say that the bandits kidnapped some church members and took them to an undisclosed location.
Another eyewitness claimed that the assassins, who were thought to be Fulani, entered the church from several directions, firing sporadically at the victims and destroying property with explosives.
“It was so grievous that many old people were shattered to pieces by the explosion and bullets that ripped their bodies. I was moved to tears when I saw a little boy that I used to hold his hands to school every morning lying down dead, among many others. What have we done wrong? Is it a crime to go to church to serve our God?”
When the assaulters surged in, a Catholic who attends another parish but was at the church for a meeting said he was sitting someplace waiting for the service to conclude.
They entered the premises from several points as the presiding priest was dismissing the congregation with his blessings, according to him, and began firing haphazardly.
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“As the Father said the mass is ended, go in peace, I saw them as they came in and shot the man selling ice cream outside and they dashed into the church killing people and blasting dynamites inside the church.”
The priest, who presided over the mass, Rev. Fr. Andrew Abayomi, refuted his abduction rumor. He said after he pronounced the end of the mass, they started hearing gunshots and dynamite blasts repeatedly.
“We asked the people to seek refuge inside the church and we locked the doors. Some people still tried to escape; the attack was on for about 20 minutes.”
Mr. Taye Adako, the Secretary of the Owo Local Government Area, condemned the bandits’ indiscriminate killings and devastation, promising the public that the government would step up efforts to apprehend the perpetrators. He urged residents to remain calm, noting that the governor has dispatched all security officers to the scene to prevent the collapse of law and order.
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