A Nigerian who was inside the St. Francis Catholic Church, Owo, Ondo State, on Sunday has spoken about the horror of coming face-to-face with death, as well as the relief of watching his father escape death by the skin of his teeth after hiding inside the church’s confession box.
The congregant, who asked not to be named for security reasons, also told FIJ about the appearance of the assailants, why so many children were killed, and whether or not there was a “bomb explosion” as initially reported.
He spoke with FIJ late on Sunday. Excerpts:
So, you were saying you were right inside the church when it happened?
We were right there: me, my mum and my dad. I think the mass started around 8:30am. On an ordinary Sunday, our mass doesn’t last beyond 2 hours and 30 minutes, and that’s on days when they have thanksgiving Sunday. But, today, being Pentecost Sunday, there were a lot of programmes in the church; that’s why the service extend till about 11:30am-12pm.
The priest who was presiding over the mass had already said his final blessings; the choir had started singing. All that was left was for him to come down from the altar and then proceed out of the church. It was when the choir started singing that we heard the first gunshot. That sounded like it came from outside the church. It was a very loud, banging sound. A lot of people looked back; it took us by surprise.
People were thinking it was a silencer that got burst or some kids outside were just playing pranks, because that wouldn’t be the first time we’ve heard something like that, although not something as loud as that, obviously. So, the church wardens were on the lookout. They were inside the church and looking out to scan the church compound, then they were trying to close the doors, and people were wondering what was happening.
I think the wardens saw the guns, and then like a reflex, they shouted, ‘close the door fast fast’. And then, the people who sat at the back of the church started running forward. As they were running forward, the next gunshot came, ‘boom’. The time between the first and the second gunshot was like 30 seconds. Things were moving very fast.
After the second gunshot, we knew this thing was serious, so people were running forward, running towards the front. I went to look for my mum, held her by the hand. I was trying to get her away from the windows and towards the middle of the church, towards some chairs, some pews as we call them.