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Deseret News exclusive: Caught in the crossfire, a Utah family's harrowing firsthand account of the Kenyan mall massacre

Chris Higbee

Deseret News

Greg Jackson

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, Sept. 27 2013 5:05 p.m. MDT

We hunkered down between cars again, and soon saw a few Kenyan maintenance workers looking out from a door in the wall to our left. We sprinted toward the door, but by the time we got there they had gone back in and closed it. I can't remember if they opened it again or we pushed our way in, but we finally made it inside and closed the door behind us.

Four hours in a closet

It was a maintenance closet, maybe 10'x10', the far wall of which was the exterior foundation of the building. Along the far wall, there was a window that looked out onto the main street that runs along the front of the mall. The window extended down from the ceiling maybe 20" and ran the width of the wall. Very fortunately the window was covered with decorative metal louvers so we could not be seen from the street, however the metal was thin and we were exposed to the heavy gunfire that was also going on in the street. A lot of this gunfire was from the terrorists going into the main mall entrance past Urban Burger and into the mall through the Art Caffe patio. Urban Burger was directly above the closet we were in. Some gunmen stayed outside for some period of time, shooting in the parking lot at the front of the mall.

Once inside the closet, Patty, the kids and the Kenyan lady sat against the exterior wall so that the bullets would go over them if any came in through the metal louvers of the window. The maintenance guys opened the door again a little and looked out into the parking garage, while I stood behind it and tried to look out the thin crack between the door and the door frame. I couldn't see anything and told them we had to close the door, at which point one of the four guys made a run for it with unknown results.

We closed the door and I was worried about gunmen seeing the closet and coming in, so I stood with my back to the door while I looked around for something with which to secure it closed. It had a latch and padlock on the outside only, no latch or handle on the inside. I didn't see anything in the room that would work well to keep it closed. There were some small hatchets and picks on the floor, so I jammed a few of those in the spaces between the door and the doorframe to try to wedge the door shut. I then handed the remaining ones to the maintenance workers so we could at least take some swings at anyone who forced their way in. They looked at me like they couldn't quite figure out what we were all so worked up about and set the tools down. They thought it was a robbery that would finish up soon and sat down to talk amongst themselves.

Given the occasional robberies that happen in Nairobi their reaction was understandable, but the amount of gunfire in multiple locations meant it was clearly more than a robbery. The Kenyan woman and I whispered through the gunfire that the attackers were terrorists and they needed to quiet down. Finally they seemed to grasp the gravity of the situation and took the hatchets and picks back up and held them ready in their hands as they sat waiting.

I still hadn't found anything good to jam to keep the door closed. I also realized the door was hollow wood. I quickly moved away from it and then realized that Patty, the kids and the Kenyan lady were sitting opposite the door where they were also exposed to possible gunfire through the door. Fortunately, to my right, against the wall opposite the louvered window, there was a big heavy wood table and against the next wall over, there was a big set of metal shelves. This left a 3X4 foot space in the corner between the table and the shelves. There were about 20 pieces of 1" plywood leaning up in that corner, about 1-1/2 feet wide by 3-1/2 feet high.

Patty, the kids and the Kenyan woman moved away from the exterior wall and into that corner between the shelves and the table. They were now across from the exterior window with the metal louvers and were vulnerable to the bullets that could come through the window from the street. There were some big tool boxes and boxes of metal plumbing fittings on the floor, so I put them on the shelves to fill in the spaces in hopes of blocking any bullets that might come through the window.

There was a large, heavy, metal door leaning against a wall, and one of the workers helped me carry it over and prop it up perpendicular to the end of the shelves to extend the cover against shots that could come in from the street.

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