Remember the deadly Kenya mall terror attack that has remained in the news since last week? All sides of the story must be told and this is one I could not afford to ignore.
Frequently in the midst of great evil also can be found great good.
Katherine Walton, a North Carolina native living in Kenya, was shopping at the Westgate Mall with her five children when the Islamist militants began their siege. She and her three young daughters hid beneath a table until Abdul Haji came to the rescue.
BY PHILIP CAULFIELD / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
A 4-year-old girl identified by London’s Telegraph newspaper at Portia Walton runs to Abdul Haji’s outstretched hand during the Kenya mall siege on Sept. 21. The little girl’s mother and siblings can be seen hiding beneath a table behind her.
In the photo, the polka-dot clad toddler scampers to safety, her face frozen with fear and confusion, as a rescuer in a plaid shirt urges her on with an outstretched hand.
Behind her, her mother and two little siblings cower beneath the table of an electronic company’s promotional stand.
The moment, captured by a Reuters photographer, has become among the most recognizable photos from the Kenya mall massacre that left at least 72 people dead and scores more wounded.
The identity of the American family has been revealed, as well as that of that of pistol-clutching hero, who rushed to the mall to save his brother and exchanged gunfire with the terrorists, according to a British account.
Katherine Walton, left, and her two other children scramble for safety along with an Indian woman who had been hiding with them. Walton, who is from North Carolina originally, had been shopping at the mall with her three daughter and two teenage sons when the gunmen took over.
Katherine Walton, a North Carolina native who moved with her husband to Kenya two years ago, was shopping at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi with her five children on Sept. 21 when the gunmen began the siege, London’s The Telegraph reported.
“We were just going to meet my two older boys in the supermarket when we heard an explosion,” Walton told the newspaper.
“I grabbed the girls and started running. A woman pulled us behind a promotional table opposite. I could see the bullets hitting above the shops and hear the screaming all around us.”
Abdul Haj, left, has been credited with rescuing several people from the mall. She arrived with a pistol after receiving at text from his brother, who was stuck inside, and exchanged gunfire with the terrorists, The Telegraph reported.
Walton and the girls, including 4-year-old Portia, a 2-year-old and a 13-month-old, hid beneath the table for hours.
The mother listened as gunmen, at times just yards away, ordered terrified shoppers to stand up before executing them, her husband told The Telegraph.
Meanwhile, Abdul Haji had showed up to the mall with his pistol after receiving a text message from his brother, who was stuck inside.
He and another rescuer were crouched near a Nakumatt supermarket when he spotted Walton and her little ones.
Haji, left and another rescuer inside the mall. Haji’s father was a Kenyan security official.
“Just a few minutes ago we were exchanging fire with the terrorists and these people were right in the middle of it, in the crossfire,” Haji, a Muslim whose father was a prominent Kenyan security minister, told Kenyan television. “We regrouped and we started to strategize on how to get them out of there.”
He motioned for the family to run toward him.
After a few moments of hesitation, little Portia took off across the pavilion.
Walton quickly followed clutching her 2-year-old daughter. An unidentified Indian woman who had been hiding with them carried the 13-month-old.
GORAN TOMASEVIC / REUTERS
Shoppers and shop assistants raise their hands as they are escorted to safety during the takeover.
As they approached the mall’s exit, Walton told The Telegraph she became choked up “because we realized we were almost there.”
“They soothed us, told us we were OK, we were safe and to stay calm. They did a wonderful job,” she said.
Once outside, she reunited with her teenage sons, who had escaped after hiding in the basement.
Philip Walton, who was in the U.S. on business when the attack occurred, said seeing the photographs of his daughter running to safety game him chills.
HANDOUT VIA REUTERS
Broken concrete and mangled cars lay inside Kenya’s Westgate shopping mall. Several floors collapsed in a fire that Kenyan officials have said was set by the gunmen.
“She’s not normally the kind of girl that would run to a stranger, particularly one with a gun,” he said.
Katherine Walton added, “I don’t know how she knew to do it but she did. She did what she was told, and she went.”
“For me, I know the story behind it and that it ends well. I think I owe Mr. Haji a hug or two,” she added.
The prolonged siege ended Tuesday when Kenyan security forces defeated the Islamist gunmen.
Investigators, including FBI agents, were still sifting through the rubble, and more bodies were expected to be found.
Five of the Al Qaeda-connected gunmen were killed, while 11 were captured, Kenya’s president said.