U.S. woman describes terror inside Kenyan mall
NAIROBI, Kenya — A blast. Gunfire.
American Katherine Walton grabbed her three young daughters and dove to the mall's tiled floor. Later, a terrorist gunman — skinny, small, with a huge gun — looked into Walton's eyes but didn't shoot. She and the girls, as Walton put it, were hiding in plain view, yet they weren't seen.
The gunman likely knew the family's location: The 13-month-old frequently cried. But after four hours on the floor — a period long enough that the 4- and 2-year-old broke the tedium by playing with their mom's phone — Walton and her daughters were saved by a group of responders that included a Muslim who is the son of a former Kenyan government security minister.
The terrorists must have seen the girls, Walton said.
“I don't know how they couldn't have heard. “My 13-month-old, every time the bullets started going, she screamed and screamed and screamed, and the sound echoed and echoed and echoed.” Two women hiding with them were saying, ‘Make her be quiet!' ”
Walton, whose two sons were elsewhere in the mall and escaped, credits God for protecting her family.
“I know that he did, because how could we have been so in plain view and not to have been seen?” Walton said. “One of the more intense thoughts was this voice inside my head: ‘They're not here to hurt you.' ”
Looking for a weekend escape, Walton took her five children — Blaise, 14; Ian, 10; Portia, 4; Gigi, 2; and Petra, 13 months — to Westgate Mall, which has a toy store. A kids cooking competition was being held when armed gunmen burst in just after noon Sept. 21. More than 60 shoppers were killed in four days.
Walton saw three attackers. They had scarves around their necks and were wearing tan or gray khaki clothing. None was large, but all were carrying enormous guns, a “comical” juxtaposition, she said. Their skin wasn't dark, as one might associate with most Kenyans, but she wasn't sure if they were Somali. They spoke English with heavy accents.
She and her husband, Philip, an information technology worker in Nairobi, don't plan to return to the United States.
“What happened, it's not Kenya,” she said. “It's something that happened in Kenya but it's not Kenya. Kenya is a good place. The people are wonderful.”