NAIROBI, Kenya — Shirley Nailantei walked out of the supermarket in the Westgate Mall as the first shots rang out. She looked up and saw one of the first victims of this weekend’s attack fall to the ground. A hooded, camouflaged terrorist stood just steps away.
She would be one of the lucky ones who escaped, but not before a five-hour ordeal, hiding and stepping over dead bodies.
Days later she was still in shock.
“I’m not crying. I don’t know. I’m feeling numb,” she said. “I’ve not come to terms with exactly what I saw.”
But just seeing photos and video of the attack brings it all back.
“Every time I do, it makes me re-live the process,” she said. “You see another person passing you bleeding. Then it hits you. I could just be dying today.”
Her account is particularly gory. One man, shot in the chest, clearly stuck in her mind.
She can recall details of his black-and-white-checked shirt and eyeglasses. Clutching his heart, blood gushing out, he moaned “I am going to die.”
“I don’t know whether he died or not,” she said softly.
“From that moment, something told me, and I think it was the spirit of God, if you lie here right at the entrance these guys are going to kill you,” she said.
She hid in a corner with others, pressed down on the floor to avoid being detected. Cell phones were ringing around her as loved ones tried to call people trapped inside.
Eventually she was able to call her mother.
“Pray for me, I’m scared,” was all she managed to say.
She said she believes the terrorists were going around looking for targets.
“The worst thing they kept doing, it was not consistent shooting. It was shooting I think on target,” she said. “It was pah pah pah pah pah, five times, then silence for 10 minutes. Then they continued shooting.”
She joined other shoppers in a warehouse where they hunkered down for hours, listening to gunshots ring out throughout the mall (she counted at least 76). Eventually they made their way through a loading dock and out to safety.
But her drama was not over. She didn’t know it at the time, but her sister was also inside the mall. Her escape was even more harrowing. She was in the café, where the attack began, and hit the floor at the sound of the first blast. Four people lying next to her were shot. She was spared, but remained trapped in the mall for hours, making it out 90 minutes after Shirley.
Asked what she wants to happen to the terrorists, Shirley replied: “I would not say I want people to die. But they need also to tell us what were they thinking. Maybe that’s what I need to hear. What is their explanation? Why? Why would you just wake up and kill innocent lives?”