At least 16 children and teens were among the 45 killed in a stampede at a Jewish pilgrimage in Israel.
The incident took place Thursday when tens of thousands of pilgrims thronged the site where the Jewish mystic Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai is believed to be buried.
The event is held annually on Lag BaOmer, a holiday commemorating the day he is said to have died.
It was the largest gathering in Israel since the coronavirus pandemic began, and attendance far exceeded the recommended health ministry guidelines of 10,000 people for outdoor gatherings.
Witnesses said just after midnight Friday pilgrims were crowding into a narrow passageway leading away from the site when people slipped, causing a fatal stampede, AFP reported.
Israel’s Abu Kabir National Center of Forensic Medicine said Sunday it had identified all 45 people killed in the crush.
The youngest victim was 9 years old. At least 16 of the 45 killed were 19 or younger.
Rabbi Tuvia Rosen of the Nachlei Daas school outside Jerusalem told AFP that at the event called “Hilula” — from the Hebrew word for “to praise” — pilgrims celebrate with song and dance, and donors often provide free food for hundreds of thousands of travelers.
Although the pilgrimage goes back hundreds of years, Rosen said it has grown dramatically as Israel’s population of religious Jews has expanded, leading to rising number of young people attending.
A visibly exhausted Avigdor Hayut, 36, who brought two sons to Meron, recounted to Israeli media the death of his 13-year-old son, Yedidya.
The resident of the mainly ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak described “a river” of people who piled up behind his family as they exited an area where a ceremonial bonfire was lit.
The father and his sons fell. Hayut’s 10-year-old son lay beside him and said during the stampede, “Dad, I’m dying,” Hayut recalled but in “a visible miracle,” recovered.
Hayut suffered broken ribs and a broken ankle.
“Yedidya, to my great sorrow, didn’t survive,” Hayut said.