Four years ago, Islamic militants raided the Westgate mall killing at least 67 people. They tossed grenades over the balustrade from the pavement then stormed through the front entrance and up the car parking ramp shooting as they went. Lucy Muturi worked at the Westgate management office when the terror was unleashed and she tells Nation.co.ke the story of how she survived and managed to pick up the pieces of her life after the devastating experience.
Where were you when trouble started?At what point did you realise it was gunshots going on?
I was seated at my desk because I worked in the Westgate management office. When we heard the second gunshot, we ran out (via the emergency door) to see if it was the generator, only to see a commotion at the gate. We later thought it was thugs being chased by plain clothes police. They shot at two cars and started coming up the ramp.
What did you do immediately you knew you were in danger?
Some of my colleagues and I ran back to the office and hid ourselves in the filing room.
What was it like hiding in that room?
It was crazy! We were more than 30 people in that small room: management staff, tenants, their employees and even shoppers. We panicked and closed the door with keys, people were calling relatives and friends. Others were also getting calls.
Luckily, the attackers never found us but we were being told first hand of what was happening outside of that room from the Control room.
How were you finally rescued…
The property manager was in communication with Recce Squad and Red Cross, and also in the room was a lady from a very influential political family. We had been told to prepare for the worst, gunshots and all. Luckily, Mr Abbas Gullet and Recce were able to get the access master card from one of the staff and they then opened the doors.
What did you see as you were walking out?
We left using the main walkway. I was the first on the line. I saw pools of what seemed like blood, and on the ground floor I saw two bodies. I was still in panic mode, especially seeing all those people with guns. We didn’t actually get caught up in any shoot out with the terrorists. Recce Squad was everywhere, reassuring us that all was well, telling us to hasten our steps. We went up to second floor from first floor, I could see all the scatter and what seemed like dead bodies at the East FM Cook Out tents.
At what point were you completely out of danger, and what First Aid (in terms of calming you down and/or treating your injuries) were you given?
I fainted when I saw all that carnage. When I regained my senses, I found that I was in an Ambulance, and a colleague was shouting that I was pregnant. When we got to Aga Khan University Hospital, they said they were not taking people as they were full. Then the rescue team took me to MP Shah Hospital, and they too said they were full. I later managed to tell a nurse that I always attend my antenatal clinic at the hospital, I was later wheeled to the ANC. A certain Dr Butt came, checked up on me, and when all seemed fine, I was asked to rest for about an hour.
Talk to me about the trauma afterwards…
Yes, for months I had sleepless nights, fear of the unknown, headaches, nausea and even diarrhoea.
Did you get counselling and for how long? Did it help overcome your trauma (if any)?
They took us as an office for one-day retreat/counselling. I later attended private counselling and also my gynecologist was helping as well. Somehow, that helped me get over some of the trauma, but it was mostly self-assurance that everything was going to be okay and lots of prayer.
After what period would you say your life got some semblance of normalcy, where you could go back to doing your everyday things?
I still have that fear, but I went to work in another mall, one and a half months later.
What goes through your mind when the anniversary of the day comes around?
Thanksgiving. A replay of the day.
Have you ever been back to Westgate Mall?
Yes, I have been back so many times. I went for ‘Close up’ two weeks later, when it was still a mess. Although I moved on and I’m somehow at ease, I still remember that day, I still smell blood, think of the bodies I saw, I remember the small children… Too many thoughts.
Are there things you do nowadays or can’t do because of the experience of the attack?
I am always aware and careful of my surrounding. I hate power outages and bangs.