NPR Story
2:46 pm
Wed September 25, 2013

Kenyans Mourn, Come To Grips With Mall Attack

Originally published on Wed September 25, 2013 3:41 pm

Kenya has begun three days of national mourning today, after the siege of a Nairobi shopping mall ended on Tuesday.

Now, the stories of what happened inside the mall are emerging, and people affected by the siege are still coming to terms with what’s happened.

The BBC’s Will Ross is in Nairobi and has been meeting those who were there, and the people trying to help them.

Reporter

  • Will Ross, BBC’s Nigeria correspondent reporting from Nairobi, Kenya. He tweets @willintune.
Copyright 2013 WBUR-FM. To see more, visit http://www.wbur.org.

Transcript

ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:

It's HERE AND NOW.

Forensic experts from the U.S., Britain, Germany and Interpol have joined the investigation into the four-day siege by Islamist militants in Nairobi. They're looking for DNA and ballistic clues in a search that's expected to take up to a week. The Kenyan government says five terrorists were killed. Eleven suspects are in custody. They are all believed to be part of the Somalian terrorist group al-Shabab, which has claimed the attack. Meanwhile, funerals continue to be held for the 67 civilian and military victims, and survivors are recovering from the trauma of the attack.

The BBC's Will Ross is in Nairobi.

WILL ROSS: I'm standing in the middle of the main hall in the Oshwal Community Center, which is just a couple of hundred meters away from the Westgate Mall. This was where many of the victims of the attacks in the mall were brought, and received some first aid. None of the first aid is going on now, of course. It is a far more relaxed scene. There are a few Kenyan soldiers still with all their uniforms and helmets on, with their guns. They're sitting down to have something to eat, looking relaxed, yet tired - a few policemen, as well.

But in the corner, the huge sign saying: counseling. There are a lot of people who feel traumatized by what they've gone through - not only on those people, obviously, that were in the mall, but people who were here helping the victims.

VERILL SHAW: My name is Verill Shaw(ph). The experience has been horrendous. The amazing bit is being the unity that all the Asian(ph) communities have come together. Volunteers from all castes, creed, color have come together from here. We've had close to about 1,500 volunteers at any particular time.

ROSS: But you say, also, it's been horrific.

SHAW: In fact, a witness, a lady who has seen her three children being shot, dying on the spot, has been shocking. No words can explain. So many people have lost their loved ones. The experiences they have shared when we have treated them, what they saw, what they went through, it's been agonizing.

ROSS: I'm now on the outskirts of Nairobi. I've come to an international school, Braeburn School. And there are four students at this school who were actually in the mall when it was attacked. And, of course, for these young people from all different countries around the world, it's particularly traumatic, having been through such a horrific ordeal at such a young age. Three of them are too young to talk about what they witnessed, but one young man, 18-year-old Zach(ph) - who's from South Africa, and only recently moved to Kenya - told me exactly what he saw.

ZACH: My family and I, my sister and my mom just came from a doctor's appointment, and we headed off to an amazing burger restaurant called Urban Burger at Westgate for lunch. We were sitting. We just ordered our burgers, and then just a huge explosion, kind of just, not really swept us off of our feet, but it was like a really big gust of wind, like a sandstorm, things hitting your face, and then a huge explosion, very loud. It was quite ear-piercing.

So we just dropped to the floor, under the table. I got my mom and my sister. We, like, put our heads down, and we just curled up for a good, like, 20, 30 minutes. Like, the initial kind of attack where a lot of grenades were being thrown, a lot of gunfire was happening. The first time we saw the terrorists come out, I just said to my mom, I said, like, just, you know, it's a scary thought, but just pretend we're dead, like, just don't even move.

So I did that. But I kind of kept an eye open to see if, you know, they came into the restaurant, or - and then once that kind of subsided a bit, we kind of put our heads up to see, you know, what was going on, what happened, because we were completely clueless, to see who's, you know, alive and fine.

I saw one of the waiters. He was OK. He had a lot of blood coming from his head, but, you know, it was a ricochet, so it got him. But he was fine. Also, in the other corner of the restaurant, I looked and I just saw, you know, like, dead bodies and stuff. And I was, like, really just praying for them to just wiggle a bit to see if they were, like, OK and alive.

Someone else also kind of moved to see his head - moved his head to see who was there. And I kind of, like, pointed to him, just like, are you OK? You know with my thumbs up. And he's, like, I'm OK. I've just been shut in the arm. So he managed to grab a knife and come towards us. So he cut his t-shirt and tied it around, and we kind of helped him doing that a bit, to keep...

ROSS: Right. So you helped him stop the loss of blood.

ZACH: Yeah, I tried to get him to just keep pressure on and...

ROSS: It sounds like you kept your head pretty strong during what must have been an absolutely terrifying moment, Zach.

ZACH: Thank you. I mean, in these kind of situations, I mean, I know that, thank God I've never been in it before, but there's no time to think. You just, like, you react, you know? So that was the first thing I just thought of, to just make sure my family was OK. And once they were, you know, fine, to help anyone else I could. So once he was sorted out, we kind of just waited. And at this time, there was still, you know, shots of gunfire or random bursts of gunfire. We were there for, like, a good two-and-a-half hours under the table.

...sorted out, we kind of just waited. And at this time, there was still, you know, shots of gunfire or random bursts of gunfire. We were there for, like, a good two and a half hours under the table. The police arrived with the army, and they started heading up the main entrance because the restaurant where we were was right by the entrance of - the main entrance of Westgate. They started going up. There was a bit of a gun battle going on.

ROSS: You're still on the floor.

ZACH: We're still on the floor. Yeah, we're still on the floor watching this all happen. It was incredibly scary. I mean, I was - I never realized how loud a, you know, a gun was and how scary and, you know, threatening they are. Because every time a shot went off, you just like flinch, and you just caw. You just grab something just to hold us, incredibly. Yeah, that was very scary.

ROSS: I was thinking you're holding your mom and sister pretty tight.

ZACH: Yeah. Definitely. Definitely. So then after that, across the restaurant was another restaurant called Artcaffe, where we saw kind of - looked like a tactical team come in from the Artcaffe entrance. They also weren't wearing a uniform. They were just wearing, you know, pants and shirts with handguns. And at first, I thought they were the terrorists. But then they were also checking the pulses of the bodies lying on the floor, so then at this point, I was like, OK, those guys are here to help us.

So I lifted up my hand, and I whistled. I was like come here. We need help. So they opened a little small gate and told us to, you know, to crawl to them. So we - I got my mom and my sister to go first. They went, and then the guy who survived - he had the blood coming from his head - we went back to help him. And then we got him out, and we just came out.

ROSS: You survived.

ZACH: We survived, yeah, the five of us.

ROSS: Mm. And what was it like getting home and sitting down in the safety of your home?

ZACH: It was - I mean, I kind of still - I'm still in the state of mind of very cautious of things. Like, even when I - like the other day, a door shut, and I flinched and...

ROSS: Mm. I mean, you're handling it incredibly well, but obviously even harder for the younger kids.

ZACH: Yeah. I feel - I mean, I just feel so sorry for them that they had to experience something so young or for anyone. I mean, it's a terrible thing to happen to anyone. But I'm just lucky that my family and I weren't taken hostage. We were just kind of observing it from, you know, under the table. But I know there were a few kids that were unfortunately taken hostage. But thank God they got out.

ROSS: You just hope you don't have to tell any of these kind of stories ever again.

ZACH: Yeah. Thank you very much.

YOUNG: Hmm. The BBC's Will Ross speaking to survivors of the mall massacre in Nairobi.

Victims of a shooting closer to home are being remembered today in La Plata, Maryland. Hundreds of people paid respects to 46-year-old Kenneth Bernard Proctor who was killed in the Washington Navy Yard shooting. He was a utilities engineer and was remembered as a loyal father, friend and lifelong Washington Redskins fan. He was among 12 people shot and killed last week. You're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.