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NAIROBI, Kenya – Anxious family and friends gathered outside a morgue in Kenya's capital Friday, hoping to hear if their loved ones had survived a college massacre in which al Qaeda-linked extremists slaughtered at least 147 people.
"I hope to God she is still alive," pleaded shell-shocked Monica Wamboi, whose 19-year-old granddaughter, Bilha, was among those missing after Thursday’s attack on the Garissa University College.
"We are still waiting for news. We have contacted the police and the hospital," she told NBC News.
Outside the Chiromo mortuary, families scoured the ever-changing list of victims and survivors in a scene that was desolate but dignified.
Many were consoled by counselors from the Red Cross. Some had slept in front of the morgue overnight.
"It’s like a dream," wept Mary Chege, 19, who studied at the college. "It’s too, too hard. My roommates, people I laughed with, ate with ... all gone."
Jastaz, 28, joined relatives looking for his 27-year-old cousin. “We have been calling his number and sometimes it rings, sometimes it is switched off,” he said. “We hope is being treated somewhere.”
As they waited, more bodies arrived by air from the scene of the massacre, some 300 miles away at Garissa University College. They were taken to the Kenyan capital to make it easier for families of the students, many of whom came from all over the country.
Islamist extremists from Al-Shabab, a Somalia-based extremist group with ties to al Qaeda, attacked the campus early Thursday armed with AK-47s and explosives in what appeared to be a well-planned attack that targeted a site where Christians had gone to pray.
Police were at the scene on Friday, taking fingerprints from the bodies of the four assailants and of the students and security officials who died so they could be identified.
Doctors at the local hospital operated on at least 16 survivors.
Many people expressed anger at the failure by authorities to prevent the massacre, which came despite recent warnings that an attack on a university was imminent.
A small group of male demonstrators walked down a main road in Garissa with signs that read "We are against the killing of innocent Kenyans!!!! We are tired!!" and "Enough is enough. No more killing!! We are with you, our fellow Kenyans."
"We feel very sorry for them and we condemn the attack," demonstrator Abdullahi Muktar told The Associated Press.
Al Shabab has been blamed for a series of attacks in Kenya, including the siege at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi in 2013 that killed 67 people, as well as other violence in the north.
Olivier Guitta, managing director at security and geopolitical risk firm GlobalStrat, said more such atrocities were on the horizon – with Westerners likely to be targeted.
“This could be a prelude for other attacks, in Nairobi or in Ethiopia and against Westerners because that will get them much more media exposure in the West,” he told NBC News. “They need to do something like another Westgate again.”
Alastair Jamieson reported from London. Zainab Abdul Aziz and The Associated Press contributed to this report.