The frantic phone call came from a close friend staying the weekend with my family: She was inside Nairobi’s most upscale mall and could hear gunshots. Her husband and 2-year-old daughter were inside too, but she didn’t know where. Where should she go?
Over the next several hours my role as a reporter collided with my concern for close friends in mortal danger.
Lyndsay called my wife two minutes after the first blast. It was 12.40 pm Saturday. Lyndsay, who was at a top-floor bookstore, initially thought it was a robbery. I rushed from home to the shopping centre, a mile away. The scene was eerie: Gunmen had shot up cars at the mall’s entrance. Bodies lay hanging from the vehicles.
Lyndsay’s husband, Nick, was with their daughter Julia in the downstairs cafe that appeared to be the initial attack point. He scooped up his toddler and ran. They ended up being pushed into a department store storage area and would stay there the next three hours.
Lyndsay was in a third-floor movie theater when she called me again. If gunmen found her and others, there was no escape, she said. A short while later the movie theater group — about 20 strangers related by terror — took an emergency exit up to the roof. Once there, they still had no escape.
I returned to my own work as a reporter, suppressing my fears that my friends could be killed.
Finally, cops helped Lyndsay and the roof hostages escape and three hours after the grenade exploded, her husband sprinted with her daughter to safety. A photographer snapped a photo of that sprint that appeared on dozens of news sites.