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'I Knew Something Was Terribly Wrong'


Katherine Walton and her five children were in Nairobi's Westgate Mall when it was stormed by terrorists last week. After four hours in hiding, several Kenyans helped them escape. I reached Katherine Walton yesterday on her cellphone in Nairobi. And I asked her when she first realized the mall was under attack.

KATHERINE WALTON: I had just come down the stairs and was going to meet my sons at the grocery store that's there, called Nakumatt, and I heard this very loud explosion and bullets just started going. And immediately I knew that something was terribly wrong.

MARTIN: And at the time you were with your three younger children. Your two older boys...

WALTON: That's right.

MARTIN: ...were in a different part of the mall?

WALTON: They were just inside the grocery store and I was just out front. I immediately grabbed my girls and just kind of ducked and started running, and a Kenyan woman came and helped scoop up one of my girls and we dove behind this advertisement booth.

MARTIN: And as you were hiding, what were you hearing? What were you seeing?

WALTON: We didn't see very much but we heard a lot - really, lots of gunfire, lots, lots of gunfire going off. And we knew that it was very close like, you know, on the other side of the booth in front of the store.

MARTIN: What was going through your mind at the time?

WALTON: I was doing a lot of praying.

MARTIN: How were your kids responding?

WALTON: My four-year-old initially was crying, but then the Kenyan lady that was laying on her and protecting her just soothed her and told her not to cry, and got her to be calm. And so she just laid, just face to the ground, fingers in her ears. My two-year-old, she just curled up in the fetal position and just laid there as still as possible and didn't move. And the baby, you know, she would cry, she would cry when there was gunshots. But in between she would get quiet, just be still and sleep.

MARTIN: And at the same time, you're separated from your two older boys. That had to have been excruciatingly difficult.

WALTON: Immediately, when it started and I got behind cover, I called my oldest son and told him not to come out of the store and go and hide. A little bit after that, you know, I texted to ask if he was OK. And he told me that they were fine and that they were OK. So my assumption was that he had left and that they were already safe. And until I was rescued and got out that I realized they had only gotten out maybe half an hour before I did.

MARTIN: How did you escape? How long were you in hiding? When could you finally come out?

WALTON: We were in hiding for about four hours. And we got out because some Kenyan men gathered together and they came in and rescued us. I just want to say thank you to the men that risked their lives to come in and save us because they didn't have to. They took a great risk. They really did a wonderful thing for us.

MARTIN: How do you talk to your youngest kids about what happened?

WALTON: I really let them do the talking. When they brought it up, I've listened to them. And I've asked questions so that they can tell me what they're thinking and what's on their minds. And they've wanted to play out the scenario and reenact hiding on the floor and being quiet. I've let them do that.

When we do talk about it, we talk about how the day started and it was a good day and then this bad thing happened at the mall. And then it ended well, and that we went to a friend's house and they got to play with friends and pet the puppies. So that when they finish off that memory, it's good.

MARTIN: What has been the effect on your community in Kenya?

WALTON: For me, I think it brought our community closer. It has really rallied us together and they have just surrounded us, supported us. And, you know, at times taking over, making decisions for us.

MARTIN: Are you planning to stay in Kenya?

WALTON: Yeah, we are. 'Cause we realize this is just something that happened in Kenya and it has nothing to do with the people of Kenya.

MARTIN: Katherine Walton, she and her five children were in Nairobi's Westgate Mall when it was attacked by al-Shabab terrorists last week. She joined us on her cellphone from Nairobi.

Katherine, thanks so much for talking with us.

WALTON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.