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Westgate terror attack: Woman recounts her family’s dramatic rescue

Faith Wambua Luedeling and her two children lie on the floor after terrorists struck at Westgate Mall.

By Peter Muiruri

It is perhaps one of the most enduring images of the Westgate terror attack: a mother prostrate on the shopping mall’s floor, pinning her two children in the same position to shelter them from whizzing bullets.

For Faith Wambua Luedeling and her two children – Sy, 9, and Ty, 21 months – what was supposed to be a quick dash to the supermarket to buy a wedding anniversary gift for her husband turned out to be a four-hour siege.

Ten days after the ghastly incident, Faith recounts what was going through her mind and that of her two children.

Wedding anniversary

“We had just come from a Bata shop where my daughter had just picked some shoes before she requested for my permission to go play with the big elephant dummy near the entrance. I intended to shop for a gift to give to my husband for our wedding anniversary the following Monday.

“Suddenly we heard a big bang and thought the entire building was collapsing. My daughter said that the ‘elephant’ had collapsed. Then an intermittent sound of gunshots followed and that is when I pulled my kids to the ground,” says Faith.

Initially, she thought this was a ‘normal’ robbery that would die off once the gangsters completed their mission. The sight of a wounded man next to her almost convinced her that the gangsters were after him. But this was not to be.

She says the deafening sound of gunfire increased, leaving her with no doubt that this was no small act of robbery.

“There was more random shooting. Though I could hardly look up, it was clear that this was a much bigger situation than we initially thought. My daughter, though cooperating with my directions to lie down, comically asked me whether that was the most ideal situation for us to hide,” recalls Faith.

She says there would be a lull in the shootout before the place would erupt again, frightening them all the more.

Faith, together with her daughter, Sy, began singing some spiritual songs and praying, hoping that their ordeal would be over.

“My daughter was praying too loud, something that I thought would attract the attackers to where we were. My children are quite active by nature and I was surprised to see them remain that calm for hours. The baby even managed to sleep completely for a couple of hours,” she says.

All the while, her husband, Ike Luedeling, was hiking Mount Kenya with a group of four people when a message came through the phone to the effect that there has been a hostage situation in a Westlands mall and anyone with relatives around there needed to check on their welfare.

He was to learn later that evening that his wife was among the hostages.

“After several hours, I heard someone call “mama, mama?” says Faith. As soon as the call came, more shooting followed and we feared that our cover has been blown.”

For the second time, Faith heard the same call and was hesitant to raise her head up fearing that it could be the enemy trying to get to them.

 A few minutes later, she felt a hand urging her to crawl and get out. The original image shows her hesitating to go, not sure of who the person could be.

“Finally, I looked up and saw a whole battalion of armed soldiers and police. Then I noticed that the man who was urging us to leave was actually a police officer.

“The officer forcefully took the boy while I followed from behind,” says Faith.

“Another officer took hold of the daughter and led them to safety.

“All I could do was shed tears as it was hard to believe that we were free. Apparently, the original images had gone viral with some family members worried stiff about our ordeal. Even my in-laws in Germany had seen the clips,” she says.

According to Faith, this was nothing short of a miracle.

“I have read of miracles but I am now an eyewitness of one. I have no words to thank the policeman who risked his life so that we could live. We hope to meet him one day and personally register our appreciation. We also thank our many friends and others we do not even know who have called to check on our well-being. Our hearts go out to all those who lost dear ones or were injured,” she says.