Distraught families gathered at a mortuary in western Uganda on Sunday for any news of their loved ones after dozens of students were killed in an attack by a rebel group and many others went missing.
Officials say at least 41 people, 38 of them students, were massacred at a secondary school in Mpondwe town close to the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) late on Friday.
Victims were hacked, shot and burned to death in the attack on Lhubiriha Secondary School, leaving Uganda shocked and drawing condemnation from around the globe.
The army and the police have blamed the Allied Democratic Front (ADF) armed group for the attack. The attackers abducted six people as they fled.
The military said it was pursuing the attackers and would free those kidnapped.
Many of the victims were burned beyond recognition as the attackers set a locked dormitory ablaze, frustrating efforts to identify the dead and account for the missing.
At a mortuary in Bwera, a town near where the attack took place, families wailed as the bodies of their loved ones were put into coffins and taken away for burial.
But for many others, there was no news of missing relatives. Many of the charred bodies were sent to the city of Fort Portal for DNA testing.
It is the deadliest attack in Uganda since 2010, when 76 people were killed in twin bombings in Kampala by the Somalia-based group al-Shabab.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called it “an appalling act”, while the United States, a close ally of Uganda, and the African Union also condemned the bloodshed.
The army would track down “these evil people and they will pay for what they have done”, President Yoweri Museveni said on Saturday.
But questions have been raised about how the attackers managed to evade detection in a border region with a heavy military presence.
Major General Dick Olum told the AFP news agency that intelligence suggested the presence of the ADF in the area at least two days before the attack, and an investigation would be needed to establish what went wrong.
Uganda and DRC launched a joint offensive in 2021 to drive the ADF out of the Congolese strongholds, but the measures have mostly failed.
In June 1998, 80 students were burned to death in their dormitories in an ADF attack on Uganda’s Kichwamba Technical Institute near the DRC border.