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

As I tried to settle in for cover I realized that the walls of the corner where Patty and the kids now sat were drywall, not concrete as I had previously thought, and wouldn't stop bullets coming from the parking garage. So Patty, our son and I took the sheets of plywood from the corner and leaned them up 4-5 deep against the drywall, knowing that they were unlikely to totally stop any bullets but would at least slow them and dissipate their energy. Patty and the kids then got down in this semi-fortified space with the Kenyan lady. I stayed low on the floor and crawled around looking for something to better secure the door with. Behind a cabinet there was a long metal pry bar that was the right length to jam between a big pile of tile and the door. The bar in place, we sat as silently as we could and just waited.

Fortunately, we were wrong

Starting at about 12:45 (15 minutes or so into the attack) and throughout the time we were in the closet, Patty and I were texting friends employed at the U.S. Embassy and the FBI in Nairobi. We wanted them to know exactly where we were and that our whole family was there. They asked for information on the location of the shooters and their movements. We provided what we could but all we had to go on was the sound of the gunfire as it shifted around the different areas of the mall and grounds. We also told them that we were going to stay hidden and quiet until we got word from somebody on the outside that it was safe to leave. Although we were set on this, we're glad we didn't stick to it or we might have been in there for two days instead of four hours.

We sat in the closet as the gunfire subsided, grew and subsided again. We couldn't really tell, but after about two hours the Kenyan military and an anti-terrorism task force that is predominantly made up of men of Indian descent had managed to engage and contain most of the terrorists to restricted parts of the mall. After that, the shooting was only occasional, and only a round or two at a time.

After about three hours, the husband of the Kenyan lady told her via text that as soon as they were sure they could get in and out of the parking garage without encountering terrorists he would get some members of the anti-terrorism force to accompany him in to find us and lead us out. The Kenyan lady assured us that her husband had good connections with this group and could make it happen. It sounded pretty preposterous so we really just blew it off as wishful thinking.

Fortunately, we were wrong. As we neared the four hour mark of waiting in silence, we heard someone yelling and pounding on our door. We were startled, to say the least, and waited silently for them to go away, believing it had to be terrorists. The Kenyan lady recognized her husband's voice, so we threw open the door and found that he was accompanied by an Indian man, and both were armed with handguns. We were still very unsure about following them out because we had no idea if the coast was clear but we figured we'd better take our chances at that point.

Escape

We ran crouching through the parking garage to the ramp opposite the one we drove in on and then up the ramp to get out of the building. We then ran down an alley and past a large group of armed men in tactical gear, who appeared to be from various Kenyan and foreign forces, and were covering the front and side of the building. Out on the main street, we were surprised to run through a massive crowd of press people and cameramen, and then a big crowd of bystanders. We wondered why they were all so close as there was still occasional gunfire. We just wanted to get as far away as possible.

As soon as we were out, our phones lit up because the cameras had captured us running out and friends were texting to say they saw us on the live coverage. We were amazed that our cell phone batteries had lasted the whole time. Mine died minutes after we were out. I'd also been texting my employer while we were in the closet and they had arranged for a car to pick us up, but it ended up stuck somewhere on the other side of the mall in traffic. Fortunately a friend jumped in her car when she heard we were out and rushed down to pick us up so that we only ended up waiting on the street for maybe 20 minutes before we were on our way home. Our car is still in the parking garage and we are unsure of its condition given the attack and the ensuing fire a day or two later.

Blessed

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