Kenya's Westgate attack: 'I played dead to survive'

Faith Wambua describes how she and her children played dead

During the Westgate siege in Kenya last month, one of the iconic images showed a mother lying on the floor, protecting her two children. Her name is Faith Wambua. She was in the shopping centre with her nine-year-old daughter Sy and her 21-month-old son Ty when the attack happened.

Faith spent four-and-a-half hours playing dead in the mall while keeping her young children quiet, before they were all finally rescued by a Kenyan policeman, Iyad Adan. She spoke to the BBC's Gabriel Gatehouse about her experience that day:

"We walked in looking for the florist. We heard this very loud sound 'bang'. I thought the building was collapsing and the best thing to do is to lie in the open area.

I just told the children: 'Lie down, lie down'. I thought it must just be a normal robbery and within five to six minutes it will be over. But then time just passed and we were waiting to hear: 'OK, get up they have gone.'

But nothing of the sort. It seemed like something worse than I thought. My daughter was praying very loudly and she was saying: 'Jehovah, Jehovah, please protect us'.

I was also praying but quietly and I felt my daughter was too loud and perhaps she would give away our position and so I just asked her to lower her volume.

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That's the point when I started singing a song about the resurrection because I thought we were all going to die”

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I didn't know what was happening but I knew at that point I was to direct my children to just stay still.

"I was worried about my son because he is only 21 months. We had had breakfast at about nine o'clock. I knew he must be hungry.

I started thinking: 'Oh, my goodness Jehovah, this boy will wake up and he will start crying. I put my fingers in his mouth, he comforted himself and he just kept quiet.

Smell of gunpowder

There was a lot of broken glass around us and and chipped concrete from the pillars. I picked that up and I was playing with it. He really loves insects, so I pretended that was an insect.

I took one piece of glass, saying: 'Look, dudu' - dudu is a Swahili word for an insect. I said: 'Ty, look. Dudu is coming to bite you.'

That would scare him a little and so he would keep quiet. And we played that game for almost an hour. It was amazing he just kept still.

At some point when they came too close and I could smell the gunpowder and I could hear the bullet casings dropping on the ground, then I knew we were finished.

That's the point when I started singing a song about the resurrection because I thought we were all going to die.

I remember once they came very near because there was a lady lying about two meters from us. I could hear them walking.

They had a conversation and at that point they actually called out: 'Mama, mama.' I didn't know if they were talking to me but I knew I was not going to raise my head.

'Mama, Mama' - I could hear this lady answering and less than five seconds later, two shots and then she was quiet. We lay there and she kept on groaning: 'I'm dying, I'm dying' and we were helpless, we couldn't do anything.

'We couldn't even look at her. At that point terror just gripped me because I knew I was next.

It really was a miracle. I cannot explain how they could not see us and we were lying so close to her. We were terrified in there.

Faith Wambua and her daughter Sy Faith Wambua says it is a "miracle" that she and her family survived
Police rescue

After a while I felt someone touching my hand and I said: 'My goodness, they have found us out.'

This person again came out calling: 'Mama, mama, mama, are you OK?' This was the point where I just played dead.

'Mama, mama, are you OK?' No response from me. Then I could hear this person moving. And then he came to the front.

'Mama, mama,' again and then I could feel him touching my son because I was lying over him.

[Then he was] touching my daughter and... my daughter was very trusting. She raised her head and then she asked the guy: 'Who are you?'

Then he said: 'I'm with the police.' At that point I raised my head and I looked at him. At first I was sceptical because he was wearing a civilian jacket but then he showed me his uniform.

He said: 'I'm with the police and you are safe. We are here to help you.' And my daughter asked: 'How do I know you are not with the bad guys?'

He asked us to look up and that's when we looked up and saw that there were police officers. Now I could clearly see different people in uniform.

They were there with guns pointing in different directions and I knew now the police were here. That's the point when he asked us to get up.

This police officer was very kind. He even reminded me to pick up my keys. He grabbed my son. My daughter ran ahead. And I was actually taking cover with his body, thinking: 'If anything happens I am by a policeman's side.' And that is when we ran out.

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