Nairobi’s Westgate Premier Shopping Mall’s halls, shops, and restaurants were turned into bullet riddled, burned out hiding places during the recent siege in Kenya. Where did the survivors of the four-day nightmare hide from the gunmen?
Over 60 civilians and at least six members of various security forces have been confirmed dead. The final count will be announced after the rubble of the destroyed mall has been combed through and all those still missing are identified.
The 350,000 square foot Westgate Premier Mall proved to be a calculated asset for the militants. The readily available food and unlimited supply source gave them the ability to hold out for days.
The corridors and back rooms allowed them to hide. This was one way the militants were able to keep security forces at bay.
The vast amount of these hiding places may have saved many lives.
Shortly after the shooting began, shoppers scattered. Not knowing which direction may be safe, affluent shoppers dashed anywhere that seemed out of the mall’s open areas.
The Westgate was hosting dozens of children at a youth festival when the attack started.
Radio Africa journalist Kamal Kaur was shopping with her young son when she witnessed the unthinkable during the siege in Kenya. A bullet missed her son, but hit and killed another child close by after it ricocheted off a concrete wall.
Mall shoppers had two choices. They could run, or they could hide.
Where did the survivors hide?
In the confusion and terror, one woman hid between mattresses stacked in a store. She continued to post on Twitter while she hid there.
She posted, “I don’t care anymore. If they shoot let them come shoot. It doesn’t even seem like we’ll make it out anyway #Westgate.”
“Shirley,” as she identified herself, found her way out of the mall with the help of a police officer who was wounded by a gunshot to the hip.
Another way of hiding, she recounted, was simply playing dead. This is how some of the over 175 injured survived before crawling and sliding to safety.
Civilians like Satpal Singh, who was in a café on an upstairs level of the Westgate, dodged shots while trying to direct others to the mall roof using a movie theater fire escape.
Naeem Bivji, with his wife and baby at his side, hid under a restaurant table as gunshots moved closer, then crawled to a small dark stairwell in a desperate move to reach safety. They waited almost an hour for the final dash outside.
A bank was the fortress that Bivji’s brother used to survive. Shoppers, bank employees and customers locked themselves in behind the strong bank doors hoping to wait out the militants.
Women and children quietly ducked behind the thick bulletproof glass protecting the tellers’ counter.
A parking garage itself was not a safe haven, but the small enclosure over a fire escape in that garage was. That small crawl space saved a former Irish soldier who, with his head down, remained flat and quiet until security forces found him.
He counted 60 shots that afternoon in the garage.
Survivors continue to reveal their hiding places and methods of escape during the violent Westgate Mall siege in Nairobi, Kenya.
By Jennifer Knickman
The Washington Post