A female U.S. citizen working as a Christian missionary was kidnapped in Kogi state, central Nigeria, a security source and the website of her church said on Tuesday.
The woman was identified as the Rev. Phyllis Sortor, according to the Free Methodist Church website.
Kogi state police spokesman Sola Collins Adebayo said Sortor was taken by masked gunmen Monday morning, according to the French news agency AFP.
Adebayo said the attack occurred in the village of Emiworo, where Sortor ran a community organization within the premises of a school linked to her church.
The kidnappers were "unknown gunmen ... (who) came into the school premises shooting sporadically to scare away people before taking (the hostage) away into the bush," Adebayo told AFP.
Kidnap for ransom likely
"We are hopeful of finding her. Our suspicion is that she was picked up for ransom," the police spokesman said.
NBC News reported Tuesday that Sortor's captors contacted a friend of hers and have demanded nearly $300,000 in ransom.
Sortor, 70, has family in the Western U.S. state of Washington and is a graduate of Seattle Pacific University, according to local news media.
A prayer vigil was held for Sortor Monday night at the university, where her stepson, Richard Sortor, was quoted by local media as saying, “She believes in God, she’s doing God’s work.” He said the news was “surreal, just surreal, I can’t believe this.”
Bishop David Kendall wrote on the Free Methodist Church website, "Early this morning (Monday) we received a report that Rev. Phyllis Sortor, our missionary in Nigeria, was abducted from the Hope Academy compound in Emiworo, Kogi State, Nigeria by several persons.
"The U.S. Embassy has been notified, and the State Department and the FBI are working with local authorities to find and rescue her. We are calling on the U.S. church to join together in prayer for Phyllis’ safety and speedy release," Kendall wrote.
Judy Lipsey, Free Methodist missions promotions director, said the church would provide no further comment at present, as events are still unfolding.
A U.S. State Department official said, "We are aware of media reports that a U.S. citizen was reported missing in Nigeria," but could not make further comments, in the interest of privacy.
Foreigners have been taken hostage before in Nigeria, one of the world's worst country's for kidnapping. Criminal gangs make millions of dollars a year by demanding ransoms.
Boko Haram has been blamed for previous attacks in Kogi, including two raids targeting the same prison in 2012 and 2014, but the Islamist group's activity is minor in the area, security sources said.
There was no indication that the Islamists were responsible for the missionary's abduction.
Sortor was upbeat in a January newsletter posted on the church's website, "Just a little note to share the joy with you regarding the (long-awaited) opening of our brand-new ICCM school in Enugu! We have worked long and hard on this school, and are so thrilled that yesterday, January 19th, 2015, we were able to open our doors for the first time!"
She also partnered with the Clear Blue Global Water Project, an Akron, Ohio-based nonprofit organization.
Brenda Young, director of Clear Blue, shared a photo of Sortor on the group's Facebook page and announced she had been taken hostage: "This is Phyllis Sorter, our precious friend and partner, who has been abducted by unknown captors in Nigeria. She is one of the most dedicated, tireless women of God we know."
Some material for this report came from Reuters and AFP.