Ten years after alshabaab militants launched an attack on Westgate mall that left 67 people dead, the events of the assault remains fresh in the minds of many survivors.
Memories so close to Judy Wanjau who was among those who survived the fateful events of September 21st when masked gunmen stormed Nairobi premiere shopping centre, Westage mall at around midday.
Throwing grenades and firing indiscriminately, Judy alongside twenty one other people, would find herself trapped on the third floor of the mall, inside a local telecommunication company premises located just opposite the defunct Nakummat supermarket.
Her description of the events, over the nine hours she was ensnared in the movie like episode, as graphical as is disturbing.
Having left her sister’s home, where together with other friends had an overnight prayer session; Judy would head to her work place as had been her norm.
But just as she thought it would be a productive day, she heard gun shots and loud bangs.
“I rushed out to check what was happening. But when I reached the first floor, I heard gun shots. I crawled back to the third floor where I was working. I tried to call my family and friends to know what was happening, but the calls were dropping.” She says.
When she managed to get through to her brother in law, fear and shock would grip her. She would be told to hide as the news of a terror attack on the mall had started spreading. In the midst of gun sound, explosions and cries from children, she would find comfort in a kitchen.
“There was intermittent shooting. I did not know what was happening. I came out of the kitchen where I was hiding after Nakummat caught fire and smoke billowed. I feared I could die from the fire and wondered why I should escape death from terrorists and die from fire injuries.” Says Judy.
So much was going through her mind during the attack.
‘We were praying and reaching out to other people to pray for us .I was telling God to save me, that I was not ready to die. We were praying as a group including the children who were in the room.” She explained
Unaware of available exits to escape from the building, a team of KDF personnel would finally reach them where they were frisked and interrogated before they were finally guided out of the building.
“It was painful as we moved out through the fourth floor where there was an exit. You could see blood all over, misplaced shoes, lost handbags; you could actually see the level of terror meted on innocent people.” She said amid a long pause adding “there was one of my clients who was shot eight times but survived. She had invited me for lunch. My mind was full of what ifs, I had accepted the invitation.”
She thanked the armed civilians and security officers who responded.
“The response appeared uncoordinated, luckily, we had armed people within the building and they helped a lot in reducing possible casualties. I wish more people were rescued.” She says.
She had to attend counseling sessions for a month resulting from associated trauma.
“Even when you bang the door, I would remain shaken to the core. I had to resign and look for another job. I no longer visit malls. Even when I am in a group of over ten people, I walk away.” She revealed.
An audit on the operation to neutralize the terrorists at the mall identified gaps which saw the government implement measures, key among them the multi-agency approach in detecting, deterring and dealing with future attacks. The measures saw improved coordination between security agencies as was witnessed during the Dusit D2 terror attack.